“In my heart, the matter is over” said 40-year-old Kamin, who owns a hardware store in Old Delhi’s Muslim-majority Jama Masjid area. On November 9, as the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the Ayodhya land title dispute, his first response was relief. “It is great that this has ended. The upcoming generations will not have to face it. We have been stuck on the same issue for years.”
The court had reserved the disputed land, where the Babri Masjid had stood before it was demolished by a Hindutva mob in 1992, for a trust to be set up by the Centre. The trust will supervise, among other things, the construction of a Ram temple at the site. It also ordered the government to acquire an alternative plot of land for a mosque.
On the morning of November 9, it seemed to be business as usual in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar and Jama Masjid, both dominated by Muslims. Shops were open and streets were bustling. But one thing was noticable: Central Reserve Police Force personnel were stationed every few hundred metres, though most were lolling at tea stalls or scrolling through their mobile phones.
Police vans were parked outside the Jama Masjid and police personnel guarded the gates of the mosque. In narrow, dusty streets packed with hardware parts, shopkeepers kept their phones pressed to their ears as they listened to the verdict.
‘It was expected’
For some Muslim residents of Old Delhi, the verdict did not come as a surprise. Fifty-two year old Ishrat Kafeel, who runs a clinic at Chawri Bazar’s Hauz Qazi area, said he was “prepared for the verdict delivered”.
“It was expected,” he said.
For Kafeel, the judgment was more revealing of the attitudes of the judiciary: “It shows that the court cannot go against majority faith.”
Across the street, Kafeel’s neighbour was delighted at the verdict. “It is the right time now,” said 23-year-old Ashwini Kumar Pandey, whose father is the priest of a Durga temple in Hauz Qazi that had been vandalised in July after an alleged parking scuffle between Hindu and Muslim neighbours. The scuffle had briefly sparked communal tensions in the area.
Pandey, whose family hails from Uttar Pradesh’s Basti district, is a member of the Bajrang Dal. He said he had graduated from college a year ago and was looking for work. After the verdict on Saturday morning, his mobile phone buzzed incessantly. “My friends are asking me to throw a party,” said Pandey.
For now, the celebrations have to wait. “The station house officer had told us all to maintain calm but we will do something in a few days,” he said.
Now for the economy
Many of Old Delhi’s Muslim residents were preoccupied with other concerns, mostly economic. “I suffered a lot because of demonetisation and there is no business now,” Kamin said. Now that the verdict was delivered, he felt, the government should shift focus to solving other problems.
Forty-seven-year-old Mohammad Imran, who also owns a hardware store in Jama Masjid, said that the government should provide more employment for the country’s youth. “Service is the biggest ibadat [worship] for people,” said Imran. “There are no jobs for the youth.”
Even those who were surprised by the judgment took a pragmatic approach. “I did not expect them to give all the land to the Hindus,” said Abdul Daim, a 29-year old shopkeeper in Hauz Qazi. “When a piece of land does not belong to a group then why have they given it for the temple?” But the judgment had to be accepted, Daim felt, so that life could go on: “Hopefully, things will be normal Monday onwards.”
On the provision of alternative land for a mosque, residents of Old Delhi had mixed feelings. Kafeel explained that, according to the rules of the Quran, it was not possible for a mosque to be built on land given by others or grabbed. “It is a rule that everyone follows and it has been there since the beginning, even during Babur’s time,” he said. “The logic behind this is that the place of worship has to be a place that is ours and not anyone else’s. We cannot offer namaz in a mosque that was built without following the rules.”
Land for a mosque, he felt, was the court’s attempt at compromise. Others felt it was the Muslim community which had to compromise. “No matter how big a fight, there is always a compromise,” said 24-year-old Mohammad Kamran, who also runs a hardware store in Jama Masjid. “Someone has to bend.”
But the judgment had him worried about Eid Milad processions to commemorate the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday this weekend. “I am scared about the processions,” said Imran. “We do not usually have them but I hope it goes smoothly for those who do.”
A student at Jamia Millia Islamia was more emphatic about her disappointment with the verdict: it was “pro-majority”, she said. “I had expected the Supreme Court to come up with a solution,” said the 22-year-old student, who did not want to be named. “This could have inculcated a sense of justice in both the parties but this decision is an appeasement of the majority and is very disheartening.”