Muslims angry with Ayodhya verdict, but India calm

NEW DELHI Fri Oct 1, 2010 4:01pm IST

A Hindu priest walks past paramilitary troopers guarding a mosque as Muslims offer Friday prayers in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

A Hindu priest walks past paramilitary troopers guarding a mosque as Muslims offer Friday prayers in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya October 1, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Muslim clerics and leaders rallied on Friday against a court ruling over the disputed Ayodhya site that largely favoured Hindus, raising fears of further alienation of the minority community.

A court in Uttar Pradesh said in a judgment on Thursday that the site of a demolished mosque should be split between Hindus and Muslims. The 1992 demolition of the mosque by Hindu mobs triggered some of India's worst riots, killing 2,000 people.

The court ruled Hindus would get two-thirds of the land and be allowed to keep a makeshift temple that was built over the razed mosque's central dome.

The decision has been met with calm throughout India, despite fears the ruling could spark religious riots.

In Delhi's Jama Mosque, one of India's largest, the chief cleric rejected the verdict.

"If we do not get our rights we will never be able to walk in this country with our heads held high," said Shahi Imam Bukhari to shouts of "Allahu Akhbar", or "god is greatest" by thousands of Muslims after Friday prayers.

"It is our responsibility to maintain the peace, but we will not be broken, we cannot be broken. If the Supreme Court endorses the High Court's decision, I will urge all Muslims to consider the matter with all seriousness and concern."

But there were no reports of protests in Muslim-dominated areas, partly because people remained wary of inflaming public tensions in a country where Muslims account for only 13 percent of the 1.2 billion plus population.

Muslim groups said reaction was also measured because they still hoped to appeal in Supreme Court and rebuild the mosque.

SECULAR NATION

India is officially a secular nation and its top women's tennis star, its vice president and one of its richest men are all Muslims, as are some Bollywood stars and top ministers.

But such high-profile success stories often mask the real status of Indian Muslims, who are some of the poorest communities in the country. Since Partition in 1947 amid sectarian violence there have been periodic riots between Hindus and Muslims.

Alienation of Muslims has partly been fuelled by communal riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, when around 2,500 people, mostly Muslims, were hacked or burned to death. Little has been done to catch the culprits despite a national outcry.

Muslims account for fewer than 7 percent of public service employees, only 5 percent of railway workers and there are only about 30,000 Muslims in India's 1.3 million-strong military.

Some fear the mosque verdict may yet turn into a recruitment tool for home-grown Islamist militants who have been blamed for a series of bomb attacks in Indian cities in recent years.

"There will always be few a hotheads who will try to exploit this verdict," said Amulya Ganguly, a leading political commentator based in New Delhi.

Thousands of police maintained calm in the cities of Lucknow and Hyderabad with sizeable Muslim populations. In Kashmir, where rioting broke out last month over reports of alleged desecration of the Koran in the United States, no protests were reported.

Kashmir's main hardline Muslim leader Syed Ali Shah Geelai said the verdict "is hurting Muslims throughout the world".

"To convert a mosque into a temple or something else is intolerable to the Muslim community," he told reporters.

But analysts say India has moved on from 1992 -- then just a year into the economic reforms that saw the rise of a new middle class -- which explains the muted reaction from both sides.

It may also explain the sober approach of the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, in contrast to 18 years ago when its then-leader L.K. Advani led Hindus on a pilgrimage to tear down the mosque.

Hindus and Muslims have quarrelled for more than a century over the history of the Babri mosque.

Hindus claim that the mosque stands on the birthplace of their god-king Rama, and was built after the destruction of a Hindu temple by a Muslim invader in the 16th century.

(Additional reporting by Alka Pande in LUCKNOW and Sheikh Mushtaq in KASHMIR; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex Richardson)

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