India braced for violence over Muslim v Hindu temple decision
Thousands of paramilitary and riot police have been deployed in India as the country braces for violence over a High Court ruling on whether an ancient religious site belongs to Muslims or Hindus.
The ruling will bring a legal settlement to the property dispute which spans more than 60 years of Indian independence and caused riots throughout India in 1992 when extremists destroyed the site's 16th Century Babri Mosque to build a temple to the Hindu God Ram. More than 2,000 were killed in the violence which spread throughout India.
The government banned bulk text message sending to stop militant groups spreading false information and inciting violence amid fears the clashes could be repeated following today's (THURS) High Court decision ahead of the opening of the Commonwealth Games on Sunday.
The country is already on alert for a potential terrorist attack on the Games in the capital and its security personnel will be stretched even further by the threat of riots.
The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a former senior official on Tuesday to delay the verdict until after the Commonwealth Games.
Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, yesterday published a direct appeal in all popular newspapers, pleading with Hindus and Muslims to respect the court's verdict and challenge it through legal channels if they cannot accept it.
"It goes without saying that the judgment needs to be treated with the utmost respect. At the same time, we must remember the fact that the judgment, at this stage, is just one step in the judicial process. The determination of the issues need not necessarily end with this judgement unless it is accepted by all parties," he said.
"It is necessary for all sections of the people of India to maintain equanimity and tranquillity in the aftermath of the judgment. There should be no attempt by any section of the people to provoke any other section or to indulge in any expression of emotion that would hurt the feelings of other people."
Mr Singh pleaded for Indian tradition of respect for all religions be observed and warned that any could harm the country's rapid economic growth.
His appeal however heightened anxiety over the possibility of violence along with firm security measures. In Ayodya itself, in the heart of India's most populous state, police were issued with riot gear, including rubber bullets and tear gas, to quell any violence. Helicopters have been put on standby.
Twenty companies of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force have been drafted to protect the site itself, while 44 districts in the state have been declared as either sensitive or 'hypersensitive.'
The dispute focuses on who owns the site in Ayodhya - 83 miles from the state capital Lucknow - Muslims who have worshipped at the Babri Masjid since its construction in the 16th Century, or Hindus who believe it is the site of an ancient temple to their God, Ram. The property title has been held by the Sunni Central Waqf Board, which protects historic Muslim buildings and land.
In 1992, an estimated 150,000 Hindu fundamentalists, led by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including L.K Advani, converged on the Babri Masjid site where many destroyed the mosque. In the riots which followed in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad more than 2000 were killed. Ten years later, the dispute claimed fresh victims when Muslims attacked and killed 58 Hindu passengers on a train rumoured to be returning from Ayodhya. The massacre sparked riots throughout Gujarat ion which an estimated 1000 are believed to have died.
Leading commentator M.J Akbar, who reported the riots at the time, said he believed Indians had matured since 1992 and would not allow communal feelings threaten the country's growth.
"I think we're going to surprise everyone and shock ourselves by actually keeping the peace. This time around, after 18 years, we're going to show we can handle it through the Supreme Court. Not because we've become Gandhians but because people have realised violence is suicide. Whatever people want, it's not violence," he said.