Ayodhya: Thousands rally in Delhi over disputed religious site

Supporters of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organisation, shout religious slogansImage copyright
Reuters

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Hindus believe the disputed religious site is the birthplace of one of their most revered deities

Tens of thousands of Hindus have marched in the Indian capital, Delhi, to call for a temple to be built on a hotly contested religious site.

Organisers say they will not relent until a grand temple is constructed in the northern city of Ayodhya.

The area has been a longstanding point of tension between Hindus and Muslims.

Hindus believe the religious site is the birthplace of their revered deity Lord Ram, but Muslims say they have worshipped there for generations.

It was home to a medieval mosque for more than 450 years until Hindu mobs tore it down in 1992, provoking widespread riots that left thousands dead.

  • Q&A: The Ayodhya dispute
  • Timeline: Ayodhya holy site crisis

More than 50,000 people filled a large parade ground on Sunday to watch speakers from a hardline Hindu nationalist organisation call for a temple to be built.

Thousands more demonstrators, some carrying banners and others dressed as Hindu gods, lined nearby streets amid tight security.

Image copyright
EPA

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Tens of thousands of people marched in support of constructing a temple on the site

“The gathering here is telling you that Hindus won’t sit back until the temple is built, and our wishes are respected,” said Champat Rai, leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) group that organised the protest.

Other speakers called on the government to intervene in a lengthy court case and issue its own order on the site.

“The government and the Supreme Court must realise that it is a matter of religious sentiment for Hindus,” one monk told the gathered crowd.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a batch of pleas on the subject and has deferred its next hearing until January.

Image copyright
AFP

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The dispute turned to violence in 1992 when a Hindu mob destroyed a mosque at the site

India’s Muslim minority, which claims the right to worship at the site, say they offered prayers at the mosque until December 1949 when some Hindus placed idols of Ram inside and began to worship them.

Over the decades since, the two religious groups have gone to court many times over who should control the site.

The call for the construction of a Hindu temple there has grown particularly loud in the last few months and has mostly come from members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It comes ahead of a general election which is due next May, and correspondents say the BJP appears to be attempting to galvanise Hindus ahead of this vote.

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