Indian court in last-ditch bid to resolve Muslim-Hindu row over religious site

The Hindu hard-liners have pressured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to move quickly on the issue. (AP)
Updated 08 March 2019
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Indian court in last-ditch bid to resolve Muslim-Hindu row over religious site

  • Special mediation panel given eight weeks to bring decades-old Ayodhya land dispute to end
  • ‘It won’t be easy to find common ground’: expert

NEW DELHI: India’s top court has made a last-ditch bid to resolve a decades-old dispute between Muslims and Hindus over religious land in one of the country’s holiest cities.
In a significant ruling on Friday, the Indian Supreme Court set up a special mediation panel and has given it eight weeks to help bring an end to the stalemate over the site in Ayodhya.
The move has met with mixed reactions from the various parties embroiled in the long-running row, with one expert saying it will be difficult to find “common ground.”
In 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid mosque in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, claiming that it was the birthplace of Hinduism’s supreme deity Ram and that in the 16th century Mughal emperor Babur built the mosque by demolishing the temple there. 
A legal battle ensued and in 2010, Allahabad High Court ordered the disputed city site to be divided into three parts — one for the Hindu deity Ram, another for the Hindu sect Nirmohi Akhara, and the third for Muslims led by the Sunni Waqf Board.
However, the Muslim community challenged the verdict and asked for a Supreme Court hearing with a larger bench of seven judges, as the case was related to land belonging to a mosque and had implications for the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.
In October last year, the Supreme Court decided to set up an “appropriate bench” to hear the case and on Jan. 8 a five-member Constitutional body was agreed.
On Friday, the Constitutional bench decided to set-up a three-member mediation team to find a solution to the vexed issues by talking to all stakeholders.
“Mediation will take place. We don’t see any legal obstruction to it,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said. The order on the politically-sensitive issue comes as India prepares for elections.
The team will be led by retired Supreme Court judge, FM Ibrahim Kalifulla, and also includes Hindu spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and prominent mediation lawyer Sriram Panchu.
The panel has been asked to begin its deliberations on March 15 in the Faizabad district under which Ayodhya falls. 
The court has ruled that all the discussions should be held in camera and has given the panel eight weeks to wrap up the process.
“We will make every effort to resolve the issue amicably,” Kalifulla said during a press briefing.
Meanwhile, Shankar tweeted: “This move towards mediation by the Supreme Court is in the best interests of the country and all parties concerned. We should not leave any stone unturned in resolving this burning issue amicably.”
Haji Mahboob, an Ayodhya-based Muslim petitioner who for the first time in 1949 filed a claim over the land where the mosque existed, said he welcomed the court’s decision “to adopt a mediation route.”
He told Arab News: “My original stand had been that the matter should be settled only through discussion, and I hope that whatever the final decision is it will be acceptable to all parties.”
Kartik Chopra of the Nirmohi Akhara also favored dialogue to resolve the dispute.
However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in the late 1980s and early 1990s led a campaign to build the Ram temple at the Ayodhya site and which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992, takes an equivocal stand on the court’s ruling.
“We are committed to the construction of Ram temple at the site of his birthplace in Ayodhya,” said Sudesh Verma, the BJP’s national spokesperson.
“We wanted the court to expedite the matter through daily hearing. However, the court in its wisdom has decided to try for a resolution through a mediation route. Earlier attempts at mediation have failed to yield results,” Verma told Arab News. 
Santosh Dube, an Ayodhya-based leader of the Hindu fringe group Shiv Sena, opposed the mediation route.
“The question of the Ram temple is non-negotiable and it’s really sad that all the three members in the mediation panel are outsiders and cannot understand the sentiments of the people of Ayodhya,” he said.
Dube, who faced jail for taking part in the Babri Masjid mosque protest, attacked the BJP “for not doing enough to build the temple despite being in power in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. The BJP has exploited the temple movement for electoral benefits,” he added.
Political analyst Badri Narayan, director of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, in Prayagraj, said he was “not certain whether the mediation route will succeed.”
“All parties have a very adamant stand on this issue. It will not be easy to find a common ground. Besides, for the BJP and other Hindu leaders, it would be politically damaging to compromise on the temple," Narayan told Arab News.
 


Woman shot dead in N.Ireland in ‘terrorist incident’

Updated 18 min 12 sec ago
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Woman shot dead in N.Ireland in ‘terrorist incident’

  • A car-bombing and the hijacking of two vans in Londonderry earlier this year were blamed on a dissident paramilitary group
  • A 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland between republican and unionist paramilitaries

LONDON: A woman has been shot dead during riots in the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland and the killing is being treated as a terrorist incident, police said Friday.
Images posted on social media showed a car and van ablaze and hooded individuals throwing petrol bombs and fireworks at police vehicles.
It was not immediately clear who the woman was or who shot her.
“Sadly I can confirm that following shots being fired tonight in Creggan, a 29-year-old woman has been killed,” Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said in a statement on Twitter.
“We are treating this as a terrorist incident and we have launched a murder enquiry.”
The violence came in the run-up to the Easter weekend, when Republicans opposed to British presence in Northern Ireland mark the anniversary of a 1916 uprising against British rule.
A car-bombing and the hijacking of two vans in Londonderry (also known as Derry) earlier this year were blamed on a dissident paramilitary group.
Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Union Party, which is in favor of Britain’s presence in Northern Ireland, described the death as “heartbreaking news.”
“A senseless act. A family has been torn apart. Those who brought guns onto our streets in the 70s, 80s & 90s were wrong. It is equally wrong in 2019. No one wants to go back,” she wrote on Twitter.
A 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to three decades of sectarian bloodshed in Northern Ireland between republican and unionist paramilitaries, as well as British armed forces, in a period known as “the Troubles.”
Some 3,500 people were killed in the conflict — many at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Police have blamed a group called the New IRA for the flare-up in violence in recent months.
Some have expressed fears that recent attacks could be a sign that paramilitaries are seeking to exploit the current political turbulence over Northern Ireland and its border with the Republic of Ireland caused by Brexit.
Michelle O’Neill, the deputy leader of Irish republican party Sinn Fein, condemned those responsible for the killing.
“My heart goes out to the family of the young woman shot dead by so-called dissidents,” she wrote on Twitter.
“This was an attack on the community, an attack on the peace process and an attack on the Good Friday Agreement,” she added, while calling for calm.
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