Indian court in last-ditch bid to resolve Muslim-Hindu row over religious site

The Hindu hard-liners have pressured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to move quickly on the issue. (AP)
Updated 08 March 2019
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Indian court in last-ditch bid to resolve Muslim-Hindu row over religious site

  • Special mediation panel given eight weeks to bring decades-old Ayodhya land dispute to end
  • ‘It won’t be easy to find common ground’: expert

NEW DELHI: India’s top court has made a last-ditch bid to resolve a decades-old dispute between Muslims and Hindus over religious land in one of the country’s holiest cities.
In a significant ruling on Friday, the Indian Supreme Court set up a special mediation panel and has given it eight weeks to help bring an end to the stalemate over the site in Ayodhya.
The move has met with mixed reactions from the various parties embroiled in the long-running row, with one expert saying it will be difficult to find “common ground.”
In 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid mosque in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, claiming that it was the birthplace of Hinduism’s supreme deity Ram and that in the 16th century Mughal emperor Babur built the mosque by demolishing the temple there. 
A legal battle ensued and in 2010, Allahabad High Court ordered the disputed city site to be divided into three parts — one for the Hindu deity Ram, another for the Hindu sect Nirmohi Akhara, and the third for Muslims led by the Sunni Waqf Board.
However, the Muslim community challenged the verdict and asked for a Supreme Court hearing with a larger bench of seven judges, as the case was related to land belonging to a mosque and had implications for the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.
In October last year, the Supreme Court decided to set up an “appropriate bench” to hear the case and on Jan. 8 a five-member Constitutional body was agreed.
On Friday, the Constitutional bench decided to set-up a three-member mediation team to find a solution to the vexed issues by talking to all stakeholders.
“Mediation will take place. We don’t see any legal obstruction to it,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said. The order on the politically-sensitive issue comes as India prepares for elections.
The team will be led by retired Supreme Court judge, FM Ibrahim Kalifulla, and also includes Hindu spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and prominent mediation lawyer Sriram Panchu.
The panel has been asked to begin its deliberations on March 15 in the Faizabad district under which Ayodhya falls. 
The court has ruled that all the discussions should be held in camera and has given the panel eight weeks to wrap up the process.
“We will make every effort to resolve the issue amicably,” Kalifulla said during a press briefing.
Meanwhile, Shankar tweeted: “This move towards mediation by the Supreme Court is in the best interests of the country and all parties concerned. We should not leave any stone unturned in resolving this burning issue amicably.”
Haji Mahboob, an Ayodhya-based Muslim petitioner who for the first time in 1949 filed a claim over the land where the mosque existed, said he welcomed the court’s decision “to adopt a mediation route.”
He told Arab News: “My original stand had been that the matter should be settled only through discussion, and I hope that whatever the final decision is it will be acceptable to all parties.”
Kartik Chopra of the Nirmohi Akhara also favored dialogue to resolve the dispute.
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in the late 1980s and early 1990s led a campaign to build the Ram temple at the Ayodhya site and which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992, takes an equivocal stand on the court’s ruling.
“We are committed to the construction of Ram temple at the site of his birthplace in Ayodhya,” said Sudesh Verma, the BJP’s national spokesperson.
“We wanted the court to expedite the matter through daily hearing. However, the court in its wisdom has decided to try for a resolution through a mediation route. Earlier attempts at mediation have failed to yield results,” Verma told Arab News. 
Santosh Dube, an Ayodhya-based leader of the Hindu fringe group Shiv Sena, opposed the mediation route.
“The question of the Ram temple is non-negotiable and it’s really sad that all the three members in the mediation panel are outsiders and cannot understand the sentiments of the people of Ayodhya,” he said.
Dube, who faced jail for taking part in the Babri Masjid mosque protest, attacked the BJP “for not doing enough to build the temple despite being in power in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has exploited the temple movement for electoral benefits,” he added.
Political analyst Badri Narayan, director of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, in Prayagraj, said he was “not certain whether the mediation route will succeed.”
“All parties have a very adamant stand on this issue. It will not be easy to find a common ground. Besides, for the BJP and other Hindu leaders, it would be politically damaging to compromise on the temple," Narayan told Arab News.
 


Supporters say Manning in ‘solitary confinement’: WikiLeaks probe

Updated 18 min 38 sec ago
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Supporters say Manning in ‘solitary confinement’: WikiLeaks probe

  • The Chelsea Resists group said confinement was having a toll on her mental health, evoking her experience when in 2013, as then-Army Private Bradley Manning, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison
WASHINGTON: Chelsea Manning, the anti-secrecy campaigner who was jailed for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks, has been held in solitary confinement for over two weeks, supporters said Saturday.
Since being sent to a detention center in Alexandria, Virginia earlier this month, “Chelsea has been placed in administrative segregation... a term designed to sound less cruel than ‘solitary confinement,’” the Chelsea Resists group said.
“However, Chelsea has been kept in her cell for 22 hours a day.
“Chelsea can’t be out of her cell while any other prisoners are out, so she cannot talk to other people, or visit the law library, and has no access to books or reading material. She has not been outside for 16 days,” they added.
“Keeping her under these conditions for over 15 days amounts to torture, possibly in an attempt to coerce her into compliance with the Grand Jury.”
Manning, who was convicted in 2013 of leaking more than 700,000 classified US documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to WikiLeaks, was ruled in contempt of court on March 8 after rejecting a court demand that she testify in the WikiLeaks probe.
The transgender woman, 31, cited “ethical” objections to the grand jury system.
“I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has been historically used to entrap and persecute activists for protected political speech,” she said at the time.
The Chelsea Resists group said confinement was having a toll on her mental health, evoking her experience when in 2013, as then-Army Private Bradley Manning, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
At that time she spent time in solitary and attempted suicide twice, before her sentence was commuted in 2017 by president Barack Obama.
She has argued that since the grand jury investigation is officially secret, it is not clear what they want to learn from her about WikiLeaks’ activities in 2010 that she hasn’t recounted in her earlier trial.
In a previously secret court filing unsealed this week, Manning’s lawyers said she “reasonably believes that the current administration is unhappy with her release [in 2016], and seeks to punish her further by using any means at their disposal to incarcerate her.”