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NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: The Indian Supreme Court on Saturday handed a huge victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party BJP, awarding the Hindus control of a bitterly disputed holy site that has sparked some of the country’s worst sectarian bloodsheds.
Authorities stepped up security nationwide ahead of the decision and Modi called for calm, fearing the final ruling on an issue that has been a focal point of Hindu-Muslim tensions for decades could again trigger unrest.
The Supreme Court ruled that the site in Ayodhya in northern India, where Hindu mobs destroyed the 460-year-old Babri Mosque in 1992, must be managed by a trust to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple.
A separate piece of land in Ayodhya would be given over to a Muslim group to build a "prominent" new mosque, the court ruled in its hotly awaited 1,045-page verdict. As delighted Hindu activists chanted outside the Delhi court, Ayodhya itself was barricaded with thousands of extra security personnel including riot police deployed and all gatherings banned.
Police were on alert across India while officials and volunteers scoured social media for inflammatory posts. Internet access was suspended in the city of Aligarh — home to a large Muslim minority.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court verdict, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said it was contemplating seeking a review of the judgment, even as it appealed to people to maintain peace and amity.
Addressing a press conference, AIMPLB Secretary Zafaryab Jilani said, "We are dissatisfied with certain findings of the Supreme Court.... We respect the Supreme Court verdict and respectfully disagree with certain aspects of it."
Jilani said they will study the judgment and may seek a review. "Even the inner courtyard has been given to the other party. It is not just," he argued, adding the working committee of the board will soon sit and discuss. "Whatever legal recourse is possible we will take," he told reporters.
He said the Supreme Court invoked its special power under Article 142 of the Constitution in pronouncing the verdict.
Lawyer M R Shamshad, a member of the Board's legal team said, it was necessary to fight the case till the last, "as we felt that a grave injustice was done the way the Babri mosque was demolished in 1992". "We hope that after this verdict no other mosque in India will be touched," he said.
Supreme Court advocate Shakil Ahmad Syed claimed that "historical evidence was in our favour", so the Board is disappointed.
AIMPLB member Kamal Farooqui said, "We are dissatisfied with the judgment". "We had hoped that the apex court will pronounce its verdict not keeping the faith factor in mind, but available historical facts and evidence," he said.
Meanwhile, Zafar Ahmad Farooqui, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board which was one of the main litigants in the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid case, Saturday welcomed the Supreme Court verdict and said it had no plans to challenge it. "We welcome the Supreme Court verdict in the case. The Board has no plans to challenge it," Farooqui told PTI. "As of now, the verdict is being studied thoroughly after which the Board will issue a detailed statement," he said. "If any lawyer or any other person says that the decision will be challenged by the Board, it should not be taken as correct," Farooqui stressed.
Meanwhile, prominent Indian Muslims’ body Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind said the Supreme Court's verdict in the Ayodhya case was not according to its expectations but asserted that the apex court ruling was ‘supreme’.
Jamiat President Maulana Arshad Madni also urged Muslims not to be disappointed. Madni told Muslims to maintain peace and harmony in the country and asked them to not take the verdict as a ‘win or loss’.
Jamiat sources said it was not in favour of filing a review petition on the verdict.
Muslims should not be disappointed, they must trust Allah and keep praying and turn towards the almighty, the Jamiat chief said.
In accordance with the rights in the Constitution of India, Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind has legally fought for justice till the end, Madni said. “For this, Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind had appointed prominent lawyers of the country, evidence had been collected and the translated ancient documents were presented in the court, and we did what we could... And we were hopeful that the decision would be in our favour but it could not be realised,” he said.
Varun Kumar Sinha, a lawyer representing one of the Hindu groups, called it a "historic judgment".
"Now, finally, the talk around it and even the politics around it will stop," Shubham Maheshwar, 25, a resident of Ayodhya whose family lives 400 meters (yards) from the site, told AFP.
The BJP has campaigned for years for a temple at Ayodhya, and the verdict will delight the prime minister´s supporters just months into his second term. But it will also send shudders through some in the 200-million-strong Muslim minority. The BJP owes its origins to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militaristic group that has long espoused "Hindutva", or Hindu hegemony in officially secular India.
Under Modi, a former RSS cadre, Islamic-sounding names of several cities have been changed, while some school textbooks have been altered to downplay Muslims´ contributions to India.
There has been a string of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs over cows, sacred for many Hindus, and other hate crimes including Muslims forced to perform Hindu chants.
New Delhi also stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy, India´s only Muslim-majority state, something Modi insisted was to foster development and end decades of violence.
"The halls of justice have amicably concluded a matter going on for decades," Modi tweeted. "This verdict shouldn´t be seen as a win or loss for anybody."
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Indian Supreme Court’s judgment spoke volumes for the bigoted face of India.
He said the Modi government was bent on pushing India into the fire of prejudice. He said the India of Gandhi stood buried and today it was the India of Modi and the RSS.
Qureshi noted that the Indian Supreme Court had shown apathy to the sentiments of Indian Muslims and made them more insecure.
He also expressed surprise as to why the day of opening of Kartarpur Corridor was chosen by the Indian apex court for the verdict in the case.
He said India was so scared of Kartarpur Corridor initiative of Pakistan that it chose this day for judgment on the Babri Mosque to divert the world attention from it.
He said Pakistan was opening the corridor of love but Modi was doing the politics of hatred.
He pointed out that the Indian Supreme Court also did not give any importance to the petitions filed against the unilateral steps of India in the Occupied Kashmir.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan said the verdict had blemished the Indian secular face.
She said the Indian apex court had given the message that it was not independent. Firdous said Pakistan was guaranteeing the rights of minorities by opening the Kartarpur Corridor but India on the other hand was subjecting minorities, including Muslims, to oppression. Firdous regretted that the RSS ideology had engulfed India.
Talking to Radio Pakistan, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry said the Indian Supreme Court’s decision had added to the woes, pain and agony of Muslims in India.
He said the judgment was in continuation of Modi’s policies against the minorities, especially the Muslims. He said Pakistan was giving the message of protection of rights of minorities by opening the Kartarpur Corridor but the message emanating from New Delhi was that of intolerance and prejudice against the minorities. “A process of re-writing history is underway in India in order to recast it in the image of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in pursuance of the Hindutva ideology. It is also fast affecting India’s major institutions,” said the Foreign Office.
He said the Indian Supreme Court’s verdict “apparently reflects the bigoted ideology of Modi government”.
“Muslims are already under a lot of pressure in India and this decision of the Indian court will further increase pressure on them,” he added. “As the United Nations recently noted that the Indian Supreme Court’s response to human rights petitions in the context of Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir was slow, this decision points out that when it acts, it is unable to protect the interests of India’s minorities.
“This decision has shredded the veneer of so-called secularism of India by making clear that minorities in India are no longer safe; they have to fear for their beliefs and for their places of worship,” the Foreign Office added.
Pakistan says the rising tide of extremist ideology in India, based on the belief of Hindu supremacy and exclusion, is a threat to regional peace and stability.
“The Indian government should ensure the protection of Muslims, their lives, rights and properties and avoid being yet again a silent spectator of Muslims becoming the victims of Hindu extremists and zealots.”
Looking at the future of minorities especially Muslims in India, the Foreign Office says the international community, the United Nations and other human rights organizations in particular should play their role by restraining India from its pursuit of an extremist ideology and to ensure equal rights and protection of the minorities in India.
JI chief Senator Sirajul Haq termed the Indian Supreme Court verdict shameful and black spot on the face of justice.
Addressing a meeting of central leadership in Mansoora on Saturday, he regretted that Prime Minister Imran Khan had not uttered a word in condemnation of Indian court decision during his speech at the opening ceremony of Kartarpur Corridor.
He said the Ayodhya verdict showed the ugly face of Hidutva extremism. The decision, he added, allowed the Hindu extremists to continue their abuse against Muslims at a time when the BJP government had already bent upon snatching the rights of every non Hindu living in India.
AJK Prime Minister Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider Khan said the Indian apex court’s verdict had proved that the Indian judiciary was helpless in front of the Hindu fanatic forces. In a statement, he strongly condemned the biased decision of Indian Supreme Court.
The prime minister while pointing out India’s growing religious intolerance and its aggressive stance against Muslims termed the decision a murder of justice.
“The Indian Supreme Court has already done the same in the case of Afzal Guru Shaheed,” he added.
Haider said the Indian Supreme Court's decision on the same day when Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Corridor was a well thought-out conspiracy.