The empty, cordoned off streets of Ayodhya belie the relief being felt by its residents. “What can be better than this verdict, brother!” shouted Rajesh Yadav, as we passed his tea shop on Ayodhya’s main street. Thirty-eight-year old Yadav was a young boy when several Karsevaks were killed in the 1990 firing, not far from his shop, and in 1992, he had seen his Muslim neighbours being assaulted and their houses ransacked by Karsevaks from outside. “Ayodhya has been waiting for this day since then. Now, I think the issue will be finally settled, and we can live peacefully again”, Yadav says.
The Supreme Court verdict awarding the disputed land to deity Ram Lalla Viraajmaan, and an alternative site for a mosque to Muslims is being welcomed by large sections of people across communities in the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad. While the dominant monk community in Ayodhya is jubilant, it has so far refrained from boisterous celebrations and victory processions.
Near the Jhunki Ghat, a group of locals and some pilgrims from Bihar gathered around a TV channel crew doing live telecasts with a flurry of godmen and commoners, many of them women. The mood is cheerful but no firecrackers or drums as people wait patiently for their turn to be on camera and express their joy at the news.
“Today truth has finally prevailed, it is the victory of the entire country. The Court has accepted that this is the same Ayodhya which was rediscovered by King Vikramaditya thousands of years ago,” said Baba Bharat Das of Digamber Akhara, while tying his dreadlocks in a saffron band. The court said nothing of the sort but to Das it is immaterial, “If the land was not ours why would the Court - no less than God himself - accept it, Muslims came from outside and settled here…,” before he could continue a couple of young men tell him to stop and take him aside.
Later, one of them, Bablu Kumar Bharti, a 35-year old "manager" of a nearby ashram tells me, “There are always people who don’t know how to express themselves responsibly, please don’t go by his statements. In Ayodhya, Muslims and Hindus both want the Ram temple, there is no dispute amongst us, we live like brothers”.
Whatever happens in the next few days, on the day of the verdict, the administration has succeeded in preventing any flaring up of emotions or the occurrence of even minor violence. With more than 12,000 troops stationed in and around Ayodhya, constant patrolling, flag marches, drone surveillance and strict monitoring of social media activity, peace has prevailed in the temple town.
Sitting under the shade of a giant Neem tree in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Ayodhya, a dozen Muslim men across age groups are busy analysing the verdict as well as lamenting the administration’s decision to cancel all public gatherings and processions. “Today is Barwafat when we mark the birth of Prophet Mohammad. For centuries, we have been taking out a procession from the mosque here to other neighbourhoods in Ayodhya, but because of this verdict, we won’t be able to do so tonight. It’s a sensitive time and we are happy to abide by the government’s order,” says Kaif Ali, a 60-year old retired government servant.
Others pitch in, today’s verdict is very good but there is one crucial thing that the court didn’t do - it forgot to specify where exactly this 5-acre of land will be allocated,” says Mohsin, a teacher in a private college in neighbouring Gonda. “Please don’t misunderstand us, our leaders like Iqbal Ansari have welcomed the verdict, and we too welcome it but, the Court should ensure that the land allocated is within Ayodhya and not somewhere else,” says Kaif Abbas, a small-time businessman.
To an extent, the Supreme Court has deflected a little bit of criticism of its verdict by dismissing certain key myths and upholding basic values of Indian constitution such as secularism. It’s ruling that both the forcible placement of idols in 1949 inside the Babri mosque and later its destruction in 1992 by Karsevaks were criminal acts is a spirited defence of the founding pillars of Indian democracy.