India Calm After Order to Divide Ayodhya Land, Chidambaram Says

India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram
Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said, “The India story is a much bigger story and I think young people recognize that the big India story should not be in any way derailed by a dispute over a place.” Photographer: Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg

India has responded in a “respectful and dignified” way to a court verdict dividing a disputed religious site between Hindus and Muslims, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said today.

“The law and order situation throughout the country has been extremely peaceful,” Chidambaram said at a regular ministry briefing in the capital, New Delhi. The 1992 destruction of a 16th-century mosque on the land in the northern town of Ayodhya triggered deadly riots that left 2,000 people dead.

Two of three judges of the Allahabad High court ruled in findings posted on the high court’s website that not less than a third of the site where the Babri Masjid was razed -- and which Hindus believe to be the birthplace of their god Ram - - should be handed to groups representing Muslims. The rest is to be divided between two Hindu organizations.

India deployed 200,000 police in Uttar Pradesh state, banned bulk mobile-phone messaging, and kept the air force on standby to prevent unrest after the judgment.

Chidambaram said he expected appeals against yesterday’s verdict will be filed in the next “few days and weeks.” The Sunni Waqf Board, representing Muslims, has said it will challenge the court order in the Supreme Court. The division of the land was stayed for three months.

“The judgment is indeed an important document. But it is not operational,” Chidambaram said. “It’s a fair assumption that the Supreme Court will pass some interim orders.”

Temple Evidence

All three judges said there was evidence to show that the site had been used by both religions in the past. Two said the mosque had been built over the ruins of a Hindu temple. One judge, Dharam Veer Sharma, said the disputed site was proven to be where Ram was born.

Schools, markets and businesses reopened today as fears of violence subsided, though security personnel throughout the country remained on roads and near religious buildings.

The ruling “is the culmination of a long judicial process involving a sensitive matter,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement yesterday, calling on people to maintain peace and harmony. “The correct conclusion, at this stage, is that the status quo will be maintained until the cases are taken up by the Supreme Court.”

Before the court ruling, the government had urged residents in the world’s biggest democracy not to tarnish the nation’s image as an emerging economy. Leaders from both the communities have appealed to people not to see the verdict as a victory or defeat for either side.

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