Police ordered onto the streets of an Indian town where Hindu groups will next week begin building a temple on the site of a mosque whose destruction had sparked the bloody Ayodhya riots.
As Hindus prepare to celebrate the groundbreaking of a long-awaited temple at a disputed ground in northern India, Muslims have said they have no firm plans yet to build a new mosque at an alternative site they were granted to replace the one torn down by Hindu hard-liners decades ago.
Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremony in Ayodhya, coinciding with first anniversary of India withdrawing Kashmir's special status follows a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last November favouring the building of a Hindu temple on the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh state.
A high police presence has been ordered to prevent echoes of the bloody Ayodhya riots.
Razing of Babri Mosque
A Hindu mob razed the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, triggering communal violence that killed about 2,000 people across the country.
Hindus believe their god Lord Ram was born at the site and claim that the Muslim Emperor Babar built a mosque on top of a temple there, where there is some evidence that a Hindu temple had once stood.
Hindu hard-liners who had begun preparing for the new temple in the 1990s, and prefabricated blocks of huge, ornately carved stones displaying Hindu mythology are ready for when the construction work starts. The construction is expected to take three-and-a-half years.
India police patrol ahead of temple construction
Police have been ordered onto the streets of Ayodhya where Hindu groups will next week begin building the temple.
Authorities have ordered police to patrol the streets and for barricades to be set up to prevent big crowds gathering next week.
Only limited entry into the city will be allowed to Hindu devotees because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, a priest and 15 police officers in the area tested positive for the virus.
While India has ended its most coronavirus restrictions, it has maintained a ban on religious gatherings.
Yellow houses, silver bricks
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay five silver bricks as the temple foundation amid the chanting of Hindu religious hymns.
Houses and other buildings close to the temple site in the city of Ayodhya are being painted yellow to recreate the look when Lord Ram ruled there for thousands of years, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana.
More than 100,000 oil lamps will light up the city in celebration, chief priest Satyendra Das said.
Decision disappoints Muslims
The Supreme Court also ordered that Muslims be given 2 hectares of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site. But the ruling disappointed Muslims, who comprise around 14 percent of Hindu-majority India’s 1.3 billion people.
The Uttar Pradesh state government set up a trust last week for the building of a new mosque at a nearby site, in a village 25 kilometres from the spot where the Babri mosque was demolished by Hindu radicals.
But there is no allocation of funds yet for the project.
The government-run Sunni Central Waqf (Endowment) Board's chairman, Zafur Ahmed Faruqi, said mosques are always built with public support.
“Money is bound to pour in,” he said. “We will open a bank account and ask people to donate for the construction of the mosque.”
Faruqi didn't give a time frame for building the new mosque. Muslim community groups have not yet come forward in support of the project.
The dispute around the mosque which was built in 1528 arose soon after India gained independence from British colonial powers in 1947.
In December 1949, some Hindu activists placed idols of Ram inside the disputed structure, leading to the mosque’s seizure by authorities. Court orders restrained people from removing the idols, and the structure’s use as a mosque effectively ceased from that point.
Hindu and Muslim groups filed separate claims over the site and the structure. In 1989, the Allahabad High Court ordered the maintenance of the status quo.
The Hindu nationalist organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Muslim group All India Babri Masjid Action Committee tried unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute through negotiations.
Then in 1991, when the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in Uttar Pradesh, the campaign for the construction of a Ram temple grew.
The state government started acquiring land adjoining the disputed structure, with the idea that Hindu volunteers would build a temple there without touching the mosque. But the proposal was rejected by a state court.
On December 6, 1992, a group of Hindus who had gathered for a rally near the site climbed the mosque and started damaging the domes with axes and hammers. Within a short time, the entire structure was razed to the ground.
Zafaryab Jilani, who represents the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said that while the Muslim community is not satisfied with the Supreme Court's ruling, it will respect the decision and not protest the building of the temple.
Other UP mosques potential targets
Saeed Naqvi, a political analyst, said he didn’t expect any trouble between Hindus and Muslims over the issue. “Muslims by themselves have learned the hard lesson that if they oppose this issue, it only helps Hindutva (Hindu ideology),” he said.
Several prominent Muslim writers, academics and activists, who didn’t want to be identified, refused to discuss the issue, suggesting that the community was resigned to the new reality.
But some expressed fear that the new temple could embolden Hindu nationalists to target two other mosques in Uttar Pradesh.
“The Modi government should assure Muslims that Hindu outfits will not ask for the construction of temples in Varanasi and Mathura after demolishing existing mosques there,” said Iqbal Ansari, the main litigant in the Supreme Court case.
The Gyanvapi mosque in the Uttar Pradesh city of Varanasi is in the complex of the Kashi Vishwanath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
In Mathura, another city in the state, the Shahi Idgah mosque stands adjacent to the temple complex that marks the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna. Hindu organisations claim both structures were built by razing previously existing temples.