India’s Supreme Court has suspended a ruling that divided a disputed religious site with a history of triggering violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims.
India's top court ruled that the "status quo" should be maintained at the site of the destroyed Babri mosque in the town of Ayodhya to prevent any groups from building on their allotted portions.
The religious site was ordered divided last year by a High Court following a lengthy legal dispute between Hindus and Muslims. It was to be partitioned into three sections: one for Hindus, one for Muslims and one for a Hindu Trust. But the Supreme Court questioned why the land was divided when none of those claiming the site had asked for such a partition.
Hindus believe the site on which the 16th century Babri mosque stood is the birthplace of their Lord Rama. A Hindu mob tore down the mosque in 1992, sparking deadly communal riots that killed about 2000 people.
The High Court judgment was seen by many as an effort to satisfy both communities. But both Hindu and Muslim groups had appealed against it.
A lawyer for Hindu groups that want to build a temple at the site, Ravi Shankar Prasad, says they want the entire plot of land. He says the High Court accepted their contention the site is the birthplace of Lord Rama.
"We had also challenged the High Court finding in the sense that when no party had sought any partition, no prayer was there for partition, how can the High court, after declaring the place to be a deity, believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, can further direct to be divided one-third, one-third and one-third," Prasad said.
Muslim litigants also appear to be satisfied that the legal case has been reopened. Lawyer Zafaryab Jilani represents the Muslim group that wants to rebuild the Babri mosque.
"The court order was very balanced order, very reasoned order, we are fully satisfied with the order," Jilani said.
The simmering decades-old dispute continues to be one of the most contentious between Hindus and Muslims in India, and there are concerns sectarian tensions may resurface if it is not settled.
Hindus make up about 80 percent of India’s population, while Muslims constitute about 13 percent.