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Ayodhya: India's religious flashpoint

Demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 sparked nationwide riots that left thousands dead
Demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 sparked nationwide riots that left thousands dead  

(CNN) -- The rising sectarian tension in the Indian town of Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has a history dating back more than 400 years.

In 1528 a mosque was built on the site where some Hindus say Lord Rama, one of the most revered deities in Hinduism, was born.

Centuries later, Hindus are pushing for a new temple to be built at the site where activists razed the 16th century mosque a decade ago.

The demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 by supporters of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad party (VHP or World Hindu Council), and then-opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sparked nationwide religious riots in which 3,000 people died.

The lead-up to its destruction was marked by more than a century of rising Muslim-Hindu tensions about the temple.

In 1859 the then British colonial administration annexed the mosque because of growing religious tensions at the site, creating within it separate Muslim and Hindu places of worship.

In 1949 the gates were locked after these boundaries were violated, Muslims claiming Hindu worshippers had placed deities of Lord Rama within their designated area.

Hindu campaign

CNN's Satinder Bindra in New Delhi reports on the attack
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CNN's Satinder Bindra reports police across India are bracing for violence after a mob set fire to a train carrying hundreds of Hindu activists

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A campaign to build a temple at the mosque site, to honor the birthplace of Lord Rama, was launched in 1984 when the VHP set up a committee, lead by the then BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani (now home minister).

The campaign ramped up in 1989 with the laying of foundations on land adjacent to the disputed mosque.

Three years later tensions exploded when an angry mob of Hindus stormed the mosque and demolished it.

Muslims, who make up more than 10 percent of India's one billion people, want the mosque rebuilt.

The promise to build a temple on the site was a key plank of the BJP's platform as it rode a strong Hindu revivalist movement from obscurity in the1980s to political center-stage.

The glass-encased wooden model of the proposed Ram Temple in Ayodhya
The glass-encased wooden model of the proposed Ram Temple in Ayodhya  

But Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been forced by coalition allies to drop support for the temple and has called on all sides to allow the law to solve the issue.

The dispute has dragged on for years in the Indian courts and any activity at the site has been banned.

Successive governments have said they are committed to upholding the court's orders.

The VHP says the construction of a temple is a matter of conscience.

They say they will ignore any court decision against them and have vowed to push ahead with their deadline of March 15 to begin construction.

Tensions rising

Over the past few days an estimated 15,000 followers have taken up the call to travel to Ayodhya to put pressure on the government to allow construction of the temple.

Several thousand security personnel have been put on alert around the site, and tensions have risen dramatically.

In the latest incident, more than 50 people died when a train carrying Hindu activists returning to Gujarat from Ayodhya was set alight.

Vajpayee has publicly appealed to Hindu activists to call off their campaign, repeating that the courts must be allowed to make their ruling on the case.

For their part the VHP says it is sticking to its deadline but has pledged that their campaign to get the temple built will be carried out peacefully.




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