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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

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(CNN) -- The sectarian tensions in the north Indian town of Ayodhya have 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.

In 1992 that mosque was torn down by a mob of Hindu extremists, many using crowbars or just their bare hands.

The demolition sparked religious riots across the country in which more than 2,000 people died.

Dozens of temples and mosques were also targeted in a series of revenge attacks by Hindu and Muslim mobs.

The violence was some of worst seen in India since the bloody clashes that accompanied partition following independence in 1947.

Hardline Hindu groups have since been pushing for a new temple to be built at the disputed site and have already assembled the ornately carved marble columns and blocks to build it.

The lead-up to the mosque's destruction was marked by more than a century of rising Muslim-Hindu tensions over the site.

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

Gates locked

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

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

In 1984 the hard-line Vishwa Hindu Parishad party (VHP or World Hindu Council) launched a campaign to build a temple at the mosque site.

The committee was headed by the then leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lal Krishna Advani -- now Indian deputy prime 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.

Court battle

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 the 1980s to political center-stage.

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, but 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 set a series of deadlines to begin construction -- all of which have passed with no action taken.

Several thousand security personnel have been deployed to guard the site around-the-clock.

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.

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