With the nation on high alert, an Indian court handed down a long-awaited decision on Thursday over control of the country’s most disputed religious site by splitting the land into three portions to be divided among Hindus and Muslims, according to lawyers in the case.
Much of the detail and rationale behind the decision issued late Thursday by a three-judge panel in the state of Uttar Pradesh remained unclear. The court was expected to release the complete ruling only later in the evening. But lawyers in the case, interviewed on Indian news channels, said the panel had unexpectedly ruled by dividing the land in a way that gave something to both Hindus and Muslims after a legal battle that originated six decades ago.
The case focused on a site in the city of Ayodhya, which many Hindus have long claimed as the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram, but which also was the site of a mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, built in the 16th century by India’s first Mughal ruler. In 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri Masjid, sparking riots that would claim the lives of about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.
One of the central questions in the case had been whether a Hindu temple had existed on the site before the construction of the Babri Masjid. Lawyers in the case said the court’s ruling would reserve one-third of the land for construction of a temple to Ram, another third for another Hindu party to the case, while designating the final third for Muslims to build a mosque.