Ayodhya ruling: Hindus win case over site disputed by Muslims

Hannah Ellis-Petersen South Asia correspondent and agencies
Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

India’s supreme court has ruled on the disputed religious site of Ayodhya – deciding the case in favour of Hindus, with alternate land to be provided for Muslims.

The supreme court ruled on Saturday that 2ha (five acres) of land will be allotted to the Muslim community in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya. The disputed land will be given to a board of trustees for the construction of a temple for Hindu god Ram.

The Ayodhya site has been one of the country’s most controversial religious grounds since the Babri mosque, which had been standing since the 16th century, was reduced to rubble by Hindu fundamentalists during a 1992 riot in which more than 2,000 people died.

In anticipation of the ruling – on whether to restore a temple or a mosque to the site – about 500 people were arrested and security was tightened as authorities tried to minimise the possibility of violence.

Fearing riots, political leaders from across India’s political spectrum have called for peace, while residents of Ayodhya city were banned from holding any events related to the temple.

Related: Ayodhya: a history of violence

The conflict over ownership of the site dates back as far as 1885. According to Hindus, Ayodhya is the birthplace of their god Ram and is one of the holiest religious sites. They claim that the first Mughal emperor Babur tore down an ancient Hindu temple to build the Babri mosque.

An archaeological survey performed after the mosque was destroyed claimed to have found evidence of a Hindu temple beneath its foundations.

The long-running case was taken before the supreme court in August after mediation between the Hindu and Muslim claimants failed. An initial court ruling in 2010, which ordered that the land be divided into three parts – two belonging to Hindus and one to Muslims – was rejected by both parties. The supreme court panel that ruled on Saturday is seen as favourable to the Modi government agenda.

Over the past five years, the Ayodhya dispute has become a rallying point for the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) and become a focal point of their Hindu nationalist agenda. Several BJP members are currently standing trial for their involvement in the violent 1992 riots.

The ruling comes at a turbulent time for India’s 200 million Muslims, who face increased hostility from the government and wider Indian society. Since Modi came to power there has been an upsurge in violent attacks against Muslims and the recent clampdown in Kashmir has been cited as evidence of the BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda.