The long awaited settlement to the Ayodhya dispute* (basically, both the Hindus and the Muslims claim holy ownership of the same piece of land) was handed out by the notoriously slow Indian legal system today, sixty years led this dispute to be taken to court and almost twenty years after crippling riots across India made this a national issue. The court went for a middle path (though there is nothing safe about this approach, given the circumstances), choosing to split the site, albeit not equally, between the two groups. It was also interesting to see how the Justices themselves (two Hindus and a Muslim) were influenced by their religious background when making their decision.
Forgetting the fact that neither side is satisfied with the verdict and will most certainly appeal to the Supreme Court where the case will be stuck for another decade, what does the settlement mean for the disputing parties and indeed India as a whole?
The muted reaction to the verdict across most of the country, particularly Mumbai- the multicultural metropolis where most of the violence took place when the mosque was torn down in 1992- shows that many people feel that the country needs to return to its secular roots and not get embroiled in a problem that has its roots in the Mughal invasion of northern India and temple ruins from the 16th century. For a country with a long collective memory and a history marred by communal violence, this was a huge step forward. Still, the government took no chances, with police reserves deployed in major cities and putting a ban on all bulk text messages (seems crazy, but Indians are even more cell phone dependent than the North Americans, with texting as the most popular mode of communication).
The problem is that though ordinary citizens might be fed up of communal propaganda, many political parties thrive on this issue. Riot alert systems that promote violence are a part of some of these organizations’ mobilization, with “us versus them” characterizing the nature of Hindu-Muslim relations as a zero sum game. Though Hindu nationalists party need to appeal to a broader segment of people in urban India, it is still to be seen what effect the verdict has in the heartland. In the places where the social ills of the caste system still exist, where religious causes are taken up with fervor as an escape from poverty, these are the places where the aftermath of Ayodhya matters.