Indian churches seek peace in midst of religious dispute

By Ecumenical News International
October 4, 2010

Churches in India have joined other faiths and political leaders in calling for calm after a court ruled that a religious site, vigorously and violently disputed by Hindus and Muslims, should be split between the two groups - writes Anto Akkara.

On 30 September 2010, the high court of northern Uttar Pradesh state handed down its verdict in the protracted case that concerns the ownership of the site of the former Babri mosque at Ayodhya, 700 kilometres (420 miles) south-east of New Delhi. The case has been pending for more than half a century.

In a majority verdict, two of the three judges declared that Hindus have the right of ownership to the main disputed area, where the main dome of the Muslim Babri mosque once stood. The court granted Muslims and a Hindu group control of other parts of the site.

Hindus consider the location the birthplace of the god Ram, and placed a Ram idol inside the mosque in 1949.

In 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed the mosque, built by the Mughal Empire ruler Babar in 1528. In the Hindu-Muslim violence that followed, more than 2000 people died.

Ahead of the court verdict, which some legal experts say is a victory for Hindu groups, the National Council of Churches in India, which groups Orthodox and Protestant churches, called for calm. "The NCCI calls upon everyone to maintain peace and harmony," the council said in a 24 September press release.

After the verdict, Christopher Rajkumar, executive secretary of the NCCI's justice and peace commission, told ENInews from Nagpur, "We do not want to go into the merits of the judgment at this moment. We have to study it carefully. We want peace and harmony in the country."

Archbishop Albert D'Souza of Agra, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, echoed these sentiments, and, from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya lies, appealed for peace.

In addition, Hindu groups and leaders of various political parties have appealed for "peace and calm," against a background of general concern marked, as a result of the verdict, by traffic disappearing off roads and businesses shutting down in many cities.

"The worst has been averted," noted D'Souza, referring to the three-way split of the 2.6 acre disputed land that the court ordered. The site is currently under the control of the federal government.

Still, D'Souza said that he would have been happier if those who pulled down the Babri mosque in 1992 had been punished, or at least reprimanded, when the court gave its verdict.

Some Hindu groups that see the verdict as a victory for themselves have urged Muslims to accept the verdict and allow the building of a Ram temple on the disputed site, "in the national interest".

The Muslim litigants have said they will appeal the verdict in the federal Supreme Court.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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