October 3rd, 2010
04:22 PM ET
Editor's Note: Farah Akbar is a New York-based writer who has contributed to Islamonline.net and Salon.com.
By Farah Akbar, Special to CNN
A wave of unexpected calm has blanketed India since the verdict on the disputed holy site known as Ayodhya was delivered on Thursday, with one-third of the land going to plaintiffs who represent the Hindu deity Ram, a third going to a separate Hindu group and a third to a Muslim group.
The land has been a catalyst for communal violence for years. Deploying 190,000 officers to keep the peace, India had braced itself for what it feared would be a replay of violence from decades past.
In 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed the centuries-old Babri mosque in Ayodhya on the belief that it had been built atop the birthplace of Ram and over an ancient Hindu temple. The resulting religious riots across India claimed more than 2,000 lives.
Indian history includes other instances of bloody communal violence.
The biggest was during the nation’s 1947 inception, when Muslims and Hindus crossed over the borders of India and Pakistan and hundreds of thousands from both traditions were killed.
In 2002, riots in Gujarat killed more than 1,000 people after a train of Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya was burned by a Muslim mob, killing 59 people.
In the case of Ayodhya, the judges must have foreseen the fallout should they have decided to favor one side over the other.
But the judges’ decision to appease both sides has left both Muslims and Hindus - particularly Muslims - feeling slighted.
Two of the three judges who ruled on the case have supported the premise that the lord Ram was indeed born on the site, “as per faith and belief of Hindus.”
However, the Muslim party in the case has said that the decision is “not acceptable.” Lawyer and senior advocate Anoop Chaudhary, who represents the Muslims in the case, declared that the High Court’s decision was formed based more on "faith than on legal evidence”
Bharatiya Janata Party senior leader M Venkaiah Naidu, meanwhile, said that "the judgement vindicated the party's stand that Ayodhya was birthplace of lord Rama."
But some Hindus are not happy with the ruling.
H.S. Jain, one of the Hindu plaintiffs, has said that he would support an appeal because: "100 percent of the land belongs to Hindus. Why split it?"
Though the parties are legally entitled to appeal the verdict, they must think about the implications of their actions - and must not make any moves that could fan the flames of hate and intolerance again.
Historically speaking, Hindus and Muslims have managed to live side by side in peace for much of India’s history. In fact, Hindus and Muslims are believed to have prayed together on the very site of the Babri mosque until the British segregated the two groups during the 19th century.
Since riots broke out in Bareilly, India, earlier this year, Muslims have worked on the repair of a damaged temple and Hindus have helped restore a Muslim mausoleum.
Bollywood’s famous have urged the Indian public to accept the court’s ruling and for the country to remain calm.
"It is time for reconciliation, “ said actress and social activist Shabana Azmi, according to the Times of India. “We need to remind those disappointed with the verdict that they had promised to abide by the court's decision irrespective of whether it was favorable or not.”
Hindus and Muslims should take what they were given as a result of the verdict and start a new chapter in the history of Ayodhya, which should reflect sentiments of peace, harmony and tolerance.
Muslims and Hindus can build houses of worship side by side one the grounds of the destroyed Babri mosque and set the stage for a new dialogue between the groups.
Or they can shelve plans for a temple and mosque and construct a school, playground or community center that can benefit the diverse residents of Ayodhya, be they Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain or of any religion.
Film director Mahesh Bhatt has called on both Muslims and Hindus to help in the building of each other’s respective house of worship while Bollywood heartthrob Shahrukh Khan, said on Twitter that “equal distribution of land hopefully will lead to equal acceptance of each others belief.”
Singer Adnan Sami, of Pakistani origin, said of the verdict: “I pray that everyone accepts the decision in the correct spirit and national interest. This decision once again upholds the secular ethos of the country."
When Mahatma Gandhi, whose birthday would have been this weekend, was asked about his faith, he replied: "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Jew."
While making decisions about what course the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya plan to take, let’s hope that the choices they make keep in the spirit of Gandhi, who preached for the unity of Muslims and Hindus and a tolerant India.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Farah Akbar.
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