NEW DELHI May 9 India's Supreme Court on Monday suspended a High Court ruling over the partition of a disputed site that has been a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim clashes, throwing one of the country's most religiously-divisive legal battles into uncertainty.
A two-justice bench questioned the reasoning behind a ruling passed last year that divided the site of the former Babri Masjid mosque destroyed by Hindu rioters in 1992 into three separate plots for Hindus, Muslims, and a local Hindu trust.
The demolition of the 16th century mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya triggered some of India's worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. Over 200,000 police were deployed for the September ruling to guard against communal violence.
"This (ruling) is very strange and surprising. Nobody has prayed for partition of the area. The Allahabad High Court has given a new relief which was not sought by anybody," said Aftab Alam, the presiding judge.
The two judges ordered that the "status quo" should be maintained at the site, banning either of the groups from beginning construction activities.
The order comes on the first day of a Supreme Court hearing of petitions from people challenging the partition.
The peaceful response to the ruling last year was a relief for the ruling Congress party, a left-of-centre group with secular roots. The opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has campaigned for a temple to be built on the site.
Hindus say that the demolished mosque was built by a Mughal Emperor on the ruins of a razed temple that marked the birthplace of Ram, the popular Hindu warrior God.
Hindus make up around 80 percent of India's 1.2 billion population. Muslims account for 13 percent. (Reporting by Venkat Raman; Writing by Henry Foy; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)