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

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.

Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019

Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.