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Tensions Ebb in India Over Court Verdict on Holy Site

  • Anjana Pasricha

An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard as Hindu holy men wait outside the Lucknow High Court before the Ayodhya verdict in Lucknow, India, 30 Sept. 2010

In India, tensions are ebbing over a sensitive court verdict which has divided a contested holy site between Hindus and Muslims. The government says it is satisfied at the country's response to the verdict.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where the religious site lies, schools and businesses opened and traffic returned to the streets Friday as fears of violence in the aftermath of the court judgment ebbed.

On Thursday a high court ruled that two-thirds of the site where a 16th century mosque once stood in Ayodhya town should be given to two Hindu groups, and the remaining to Muslims.

Hindu groups have long claimed that the site is the birthplace of their god, Lord Rama. The dispute reached a flashpoint in 1992, when Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri mosque. This sparked deadly nationwide rioting.

Fearing a backlash to the judgment, the government has put tens of thousands of security forces on alert.

But so far the reaction to the judgment has been restrained.

"The law and order situation has been extremely peaceful," Palaniappan Chidambaram, India's Home minister said. "There have been no incidents reported to us. We are therefore very pleased and satisfied that the response of the people of India has been respectful and dignified."

However, authorities are taking no chances and the heavy security deployment will continue in the days to come.

Hindu litigants appear to be more satisfied than the Muslim litigants, but both sides have vowed to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. This means the final word on what will happen at the holy site may still be years away.

Home Minister Chidambaram says the site will remain untouched for the next three months as directed by the court.

"The judges have said the status quo will be maintained in its minutest detail… This judgment is not operational now," Chidambaram added.

Political analysts say that the muted response to the judgment is partly due to its diminishing appeal in a country where the divisive issue no longer raises high passions.