India On High Alert Ahead Of Temple Ruling

India has placed its air force and tens of thousands of police on high alert ahead of a court ruling that could spark nationwide clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

For more than a century, the two faiths have fought bitterly over the ownership of a patch of land in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Since the 16th century, the Babri Mosque had stood on the disputed site. But, in 1992, thousands of Hindu extremists raided it and tore it down.

The raiders justified their actions on grounds that the mosque was built on top of a destroyed Hindu temple – crucially believed to be the birthplace of their God, Lord Rama.

The attack sparked rioting across India – the death toll exceeded 2,000.

Ten years later, hundreds of Hindu volunteers went back to the disputed site to rebuild a temple, but on their return from Ayodhya they were attacked.

Fifty-eight were killed, but more than 1,000 Muslims died in the retaliatory attacks that followed in Gujarat.

Which is why, ahead of the court ruling which will decide finally who owns the land, police patrol potential flashpoints across the country.

In Ayodhya, streets remained largely deserted with shops, businesses and schools closed.

Public gatherings have been outlawed and multi-recipient text messaging nationally has been banned to prevent the spread of rumour and religious extremism.

Gujarat’s police chief Shabbir Khandwala said: “We have intensified the checking of vehicles and increased the number of police personnel deployed on taxi stands and railway stations and hotels.

“We are also keeping a watch on places where people gather in huge numbers like shopping malls and multiplexes.”

But, even if the worst is expected, prayers are being held in the hope of maintaining peace whatever the legal outcome.

Hindu devotee Rajesh Mehen said: “Whatever decision is announced by the court, all the religions should accept it with an open heart and should respect the decision pronounced.”