On International Peace day, HAF Calls for Communcal Harmony in Ayodhya

New York, NY (September 21, 2010)  - The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), in commemoration of the United Nation’s International Day of Peace, called for peaceful restraint and communal harmony on the eve of the highly anticipated Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque verdict in India.  A three judge panel of the Allahabad High Court in India is set to announce its verdict this week on the 60-year-old legal dispute over the title of a plot of land in the holy city of Ayodhya.  The land in question is believed by many Hindus to be the site of an ancient temple and the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of the more popular avatars worshipped by Hindus and non-Hindus throughout South and Southeast Asia.  Some reports indicate that the verdict will not bring an end to the dispute, as both sides have expressed their intent to appeal any verdict to the Supreme Court of India.
 
After excavations in 2003, the Archaeological Survey of India appeared to have concluded the existence of a Hindu temple pre-dating the mosque, although some, including Muslim groups, contested these findings.  What is known is that the Babri Mosque, called the Masjid-i-Janmasthan or Mosque of the Birthplace until the 1940s, was constructed from 1526 -1528 under Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, the first Mughal emperor of India.  Many Hindus contend that the Babri Mosque is one of many such mosques to have been built atop sacred Hindu, Jain and Buddhist holy sites throughout South and Southeast Asia during the three centuries of Mughal rule. The Babri Mosque was torn down in 1992 after a hard-line Hindu political rally devolved into a riot. The destruction led to a violent aftermath which claimed thousands of lives of both Hindus and Muslims in India and also led to the retaliatory destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples throughout Pakistan and Bangladesh.
 
“Respect for sacred lands as well as respect for the religious sentiments attached to such spaces goes to the very heart of religious pluralism and harmonious coexistence,” said Mihir Meghani, co-founder and member of HAF’s Board of Directors.  “It is our fervent hope that both Hindus and Muslims will exercise restraint no matter what the judgment and begin working towards reconciliation.  While a court judgment may settle the legalities over land ownership, it will likely not win the hearts and minds of all those that hold this site to have deep religious and historical significance.  Religious leaders can play a constructive role in an amicable resolution, taking into consideration that this site has served as a place of pilgrimage for millions of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists even while the mosque was still intact.”
 
The three issues before the High Court are whether a temple or Hindu religious structure pre-dated the Babri Mosque at that site; whether the fact that a mosque existed at the site from 1528 to the night of December 22-23, 1949, when murtis of Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita were placed inside the shrine, gave Muslims ownership and whether the fact that a functional temple had existed at the site since 1949 gave Hindus ownership. The long-awaited verdict on September 24th may finally decide, subject to any appeals to the Supreme Court of India, which community has rights to the land, enabling them to freely construct a structure of their choice.
 
To date, the site remains heavily guarded by security forces due to lingering concerns over renewed tensions between Hindus and Muslims. Although the mosque destruction and riots occurred 11 years prior to the founding of HAF, the Foundation recognized that this remains an sensitive and political issue in India. HAF unequivocally condemned the violence and loss of life that occurred and urged both sides to resolve the vexing dispute through peaceful means.  
 
HAF leaders also expressed caution over any renewed politicization of the issue.  “The Ram Janmabhoomi trial is indeed important and emotive,” said Suhag Shukla, HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel. “But it must be dealt with by India’s leadership in a way so as to not detract from the much needed focus on economic and social development throughout the country."