Early on Saturday, the town looked deserted as residents stayed inside their homes, waiting for the decision to be announced.
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Some had even stocked up on food in advance, just in case the decision provoked anger, violence and eventually a curfew in this historic town.
But when India’s top court delivered its verdict, Hindu-majority Ayodhya slowly went back to normal, with people back in the streets.
A heavy police presence did not deter locals from venturing out and expressing their happiness or reservations about the landmark judgement.
In a verdict that disappointed Muslims, the court awarded Hindus control of the site, paving the way for the construction of a temple.
A 16th-century mosque, known as Babri Masjid, had been at the site until December 6, 1992, when it was destroyed by Hindu mobs. The country later witnessed some of the deadliest religious riots since independence, in which thousands of mostly Muslim Indians were killed.
Hindus believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site in Ayodhya and claim that the first Mughal emperor Babur built the mosque on top of a temple there.
On Saturday, five judges led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also directed the Indian government to allot five acres (two hectares) of land to Muslims to build a mosque, and acknowledged that the demolition in 1992 violated the rule of the law.
The Supreme Court directed the government to form a committee within three months to lead the construction of the temple.
Hindus in Ayodhya hailed the judgement, saying it respected the interests of both Hindus and Muslims.
Some congratulated each other on the streets as others chanted “Jai Shree Ram” (Hail Lord Ram), a religious slogan that was politicised in the early 1990s during the Ram Temple Movement, which led to the demolition of Babri Mosque.
“It is a historic day for all Hindus across the world and I am really proud at how the Supreme Court handled the entire issue. There couldn’t have been a better judgement than this,” Bharat Das, a Hindu priest at a temple in Ayodhya, told Al Jazeera.
“I even welcome the decision by the court to provide alternate land to Muslims. This verdict will strengthen the bond between the Hindus and the Muslims in the country.”
Rajendra Tiwari, who owns a small shop in the town, welcomed the judgement for economic reasons.
“If a huge Ram temple is built in Ayodhya, it will boost the local economy as more tourists would flock to the town,” he said. “This would mean better business opportunities for people like me.
“The economy of Ayodhya is totally dependent on Ram and if there are no tourists, we will have nothing to eat.
“Even Muslims can’t deny that fact. The people of this town, irrespective of their religion, should prosper and this decision has done that.”
Mixed reactions among Muslims
Reactions among the Muslim community in Ayodhya were mixed.
Some welcomed the decision, others rejected it, and there was a feeling of resignation – that Muslims had no choice but to accept the court’s decision.
There was also a sense of relief, that the outcome ends a dispute that had become the biggest fault line between the two communities in India.
“We want closure and the Supreme Court has shown us the way. We have no issues if it [the temple] is built there but we would have been happier if the court had specified the place where the mosque would be built,” said Babu Bhai, a member of the Babri Mosque Citizen Resolution Committee.
Akram Khan, a resident, welcomed the decision: “Senior members of our community, who were also part of the negotiations, have already said that they respect and welcome the court judgement, so there is no reason why we should differ.
“Our five generations have witnessed so much hostility because of this dispute and if this is how the court feels it should be addressed, we welcome it.”
Meanwhile, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said that it was not satisfied as it promised to evaluate legal options, including filing a review petition.
Critics speak out online
Critics of the decision were vocal on social media, with some saying the verdict was a faith-based decision.
Kapil Komireddi, an Indian author and journalist, wrote on Twitter: “What happened today is not the end of a distressing chapter in our history. It is the beginning of a calamitous phase. What they did in Ayodhya they will seek to replicate in a dozen other places. And the horror of Ayodhya will seem trivial as they go about avenging history.”
Writer Rana Ayyub said: “The privileged who did not suffer through the anti-Muslim carnage post the Babri demolition in 1992 are talking about closure. Closure for whom?”
International lawyer Suchitra Vijayan wrote on Twitter: “The Hindu Rashtra [Hindu polity] is here & this is the beginning of an epoch of fear. In the years to come Ayodhya, & Gujarat pogrom will pale in comparison. We will remember the men who were meant to defend our constitution, abdicate their responsibility to truth & justice.”
Several people said they agreed with the arguments of law professor Faizan Mustafa.
In the Huffington Post on Saturday, Mustafa said: “It looks like the Supreme Court gave importance to belief over other concerns. The court, even while observing that faith is limited to individual believer and that it cannot determine a land dispute, eventually gave the disputed land for the construction of a Hindu temple.
“This means that belief of a section of people was given prominence over the rule of law even though the latter should have ideally determined a property dispute.”
Government, opposition on verdict
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the verdict should not be seen as a victory or loss for anybody.
“The calm and peace maintained by [1.3 billion] Indians in the run-up to today’s verdict manifests India’s inherent commitment to peaceful coexistence,” Modi said. “May this very spirit of unity and togetherness power the development trajectory of our nation. May every Indian be empowered.”
Opposition parties welcomed the court’s decision and called for peace and harmony in the country.
However, there was some backlash from opposition politician Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
“If the Babri Masjid wasn’t demolished that day, what would the judgement have been today?” he said. “There has been discrimination against Muslims and no one can deny it. We are fighting for our legal rights.”
He dismissed the promise of an alternative plot of land for Muslims, saying he feared that other mosques in the country could see Hindu nationalists making similar claims.
Valay Singh, the author of Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord, described the verdict as a “landmark judgement”.
“What is even more interesting is how not even one judge dissented,” he told Al Jazeera, “which says a lot about the times that we live in”.