Indian Supreme Court clears way for Hindu temple at site where 460-year old mosque once stood

Thousands of extra security personnel were deployed and schools closed in and around Ayodhya, center of the bitter dispute, ahead of the Supreme Court ruling on the holy site. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2019

Indian Supreme Court clears way for Hindu temple at site where 460-year old mosque once stood

  • Ruling a huge victory for Hindu nationalists under Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • A separate piece of land in Ayodhya would be given over to Muslim groups to build a new mosque

NEW DELHI: India’s top court cleared the way on Saturday for a Hindu temple to be constructed at a hotly disputed holy site, in a huge victory for Hindu nationalists under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Supreme Court ruled that the site in Ayodhya in northern India, where Hindu mobs destroyed a 460-year-old mosque in 1992, must be handed over to a trust to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple, subject to conditions.

A separate piece of land in Ayodhya would be given over to Muslim groups to build a new mosque, the court ruled in a historic judgment aimed at ending a bitter and decades-old legal and sectarian battle.

Ahead of the verdict Indian authorities ramped up security across the country and Modi called for calm as police went on alert.

Thousands of extra personnel deployed and schools closed in and around the northern city of Ayodhya, center of the bitter dispute, and elsewhere.

Barricades were erected on roads leading to the Supreme Court building in New Delhi with officials and volunteers scouring social media for inflammatory posts in what is Facebook’s biggest market.

The verdict, it is hoped, will put an end to an angry and at times arcane legal wrangle that British colonial rulers and even the Dalai Lama tried to mediate.

Hard-liners among India’s majority Hindus, including supporters of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born in Ayodhya.

They say that in the 16th century, Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal Islamic dynasty, built a mosque on top of a temple at the 1.1-hectare site.

In the 1980s, as Hindu nationalism and the BJP began to strengthen, pressure grew for the mosque to be knocked down and replaced by a glorious Hindu temple.

In 1992, a Hindu mob estimated to number 200,000 did just that, reducing the mosque to rubble.

This unleashed some of the worst religious riots since India’s bloody partition at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, leaving around 2,000 people dead, mainly Muslims.

Ten years later in 2002, after 59 Hindu activists died in a blaze on a train from Ayodhya, riots in Gujarat state — when Modi was its chief minister — saw upwards of 1,000 people perish, again largely Muslims.

In 2010, a High Court ruled that Muslims and Hindus should split it — albeit unevenly, with Hindus granted the lion’s share.

This left no one happy. Both Hindu and Muslim groups appealed and the Supreme Court in 2011 stayed the lower court’s ruling, leaving the issue unresolved.

The case also involves a nonagenarian lawyer representing a Hindu deity and has seen a high drama including a lawyer representing Muslim groups tearing a purported ancient map showing the temple.

The BJP has campaigned for years for a temple to be built at Ayodhya, and the verdict is a major victory for the party, just months into Modi’s second term.

But it will also send shudders through many in the 200-million-strong Muslim minority who fear that the BJP is bent on turning India into a purely Hindu nation.

Modi is nevertheless desperate to avoid bloodshed and ahead of the verdict, the BJP and the more hard-line RSS organization have told supporters to avoid any provocative celebrations.

Muslim groups have also appealed for calm.

“Whatever is the verdict by the Supreme Court, it won’t be anybody’s win or loss,” Modi tweeted late Friday.

“My appeal to the people of India is that our priority is to ensure the verdict strengthens the values of peace, equality and goodwill of our country.”


Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

Updated 25 min 26 sec ago

Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

  • At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested
  • Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee

HONG KONG: A small but determined group of protesters remained holed up Thursday inside a Hong Kong university campus as the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party urged voters to “kick out the black force” in upcoming elections seen as a key gauge of public support for anti-government protests.

At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, that has been ringed by police for days, resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested. They are the holdouts from a much larger group that occupied the campus after battling police over the weekend.

Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee.

The city’s largest political party slammed the flareup in violence in the past week and urged some 4.1 million voters to use the ballot box this Sunday to reject the “black force” that had thrown the semi-autonomous Chinese territory into unprecedented turmoil since June.

“The black force say they want to fight for freedom but now people cannot even express their views freely. We have even been stripped of our right to go to school and work,” said Starry Lee, who heads the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The party is contesting 181 of the 452 district council seats, a low-level neighborhood election held every four years. For the first time, all the seats will be contested and a huge win by the pro-democracy bloc could bolster the legitimacy of the protest movement.

Protesters, who believe China is increasing control over the territory, are demanding fully democratic elections and an independent probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

The government, which rejected the demands, has warned the polls could be delayed if violence persists and transport links are disrupted. Earlier Thursday, there were long lines and delays at some subway stations. Some stations remained shut and protesters tried to block train doors from closing but the disruption was relatively minor.

A Hong Kong restaurant owner was deported from Singapore for organizing an illegal gathering last month to discuss the protests, Singapore media reported.

Alex Yeung, who founded the Wah Kee restaurant chain and is a staunch pro-Beijing supporter, will also be barred from entering Singapore without prior approval.

In a video posted on YouTube from Singapore’s Changi Airport, Yeung said he has been warned to refrain from any criminal conduct. He didn’t say where he was heading but urged Hong Kong residents to cast their vote on Sunday to “reject violence and support peace.”

Lee said the party’s candidates have faced threats and some have even been beaten up but they are ready for a “tough battle.”

“We believe that if we are united and if everyone comes out to vote, Hong Kong can be restored and violence can be stopped,” she said at a campaign event in a park downtown with dozens of the party’s candidates.

Lee and some candidates kicked black footballs as a symbolic gesture to banish the black-clad protesters.

More than 5,000 have been arrested since the protests started in June over a now-abandoned extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. The protest has since swelled into an anti-China movement as many fear a loss of freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese control in 1997.

A 12-year-old became the youngest protester to be convicted Thursday after pleading guilty to spraying graffiti outside a police station and subway exit last month, the South China Morning Post reported. A lawyer for the student reportedly said he was remorseful and acted on impulse. The court will sentence him on Dec. 19.

Pressure ratcheted up on Hong Kong as the US Congress approved legislation late Wednesday to sanction officials who carry out human rights abuses and require an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

Another bill bans export of tear gas and other non-lethal tools to Hong Kong, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bills into law, which is sure to anger China and jeopardize trade talks between the two economic giants.

“If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “No one should underestimate China’s determination to safeguard the interests of national sovereign security and development, to implement the ‘one country, two systems’ policy and to safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that the US legislation was baseless and an unnecessary meddling into the city’s affairs. He urged Washington to reconsider, warning it would also hurt the interest of more than 1,000 American businesses in Asia’s top financial hub.