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Mumbai calm after Ayodhya verdict

Both sides pledge appeal after India court rules to divide disputed holy site.

Hindus attack babri mosque
Hindu fundamentalists attack the wall of the 16th-century Babri Mosque with iron rods Dec. 6, 1992, in this ancient holy city, Ayodhya, India. (Douglas E. Curran/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's update: India's Allahabad High Court ruled on Thursday that the disputed holy site including the now-demolished Babri Mosque will be divided between Hindu and Muslim communities. The court also confirmed the mosque was the birthplace of Lord Rama and gave the locale of the mosque itself to the Hindus. So far, things in Mumbai are calm and while lawyers on both sides have vowed to appeal the verdict, it seems unlikely the decision will set off another round of violence like the one in the early 90s.

MUMBAI, India — Mehtab Sudhan stands by the welding shop, at a small, dusty crossroads in Jogeshwari East, a suburb of northern Mumbai.

He points to a mosque where men kneel on rugs and pray to Allah. A man in a white skullcap sits on a nearby stoop, reading an Urdu-language newspaper.

“This is the border road between Muslims and Hindus," he said. "This side Muslim,” he nodded to the right, and then to the left over where a stage was set up for the Ganesh festival. “This side Hindu."

When Sudhan was a child Jogeshwari East first was integrated, and Hindus and Muslims came together peacefully. Then the riots in 1992 and 1993 changed everything.

Sudhan walked down the road to a dirt clearing where a cat ate out of a dumpster and a baby goat stood nursing its mother. This was the spot where Sudhan's brother, a Muslim, was shot dead on Dec. 7, 1992, the day after Hindu fanatics demolished the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya in northern India.

The destruction of the mosque, which many Hindus believe to have stood at the birthplace of their god, Lord Rama, triggered riots between Hindus and Muslims across India — most notably in Mumbai, where large sections of the city burned. About 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, died and the violence, some of the worst since partition, helped usher India's main Hindu nationalist party, BJP, into power.

On Sept. 28, nearly two decades later, the Allahabad High Court is set to issue a long-awaited verdict to determine land ownership rights of the Ayodhya site. Much of Mumbai — though, notably, not all of Mumbai — is on edge.

People living in the areas most affected by the riots still feel invested in the verdict, but people elsewhere, especially middle- and upper-class Indians, have moved on.

Mumbai is a very different place than it was in 1992. Back then, extremists were active and when fanatics demolished the mosque, leaders had no trouble mobilizing people to fight in the streets, according to Javed Anand of Muslims for Secular Democracy. People now have an awareness that politicians stir up tensions for their own gain at the expense of the poor.

Eighteen years on, Hindus and Muslims alike are focused on putting food on the table, educating their children and reaping their own benefits from the nation’s rapid economic growth.

People speak of how Mumbai has moved on. “They don’t want to go to the past, they want to move ahead,” said Sajid Shaikh, a social activist who serves poor communities in Jogeshwari East.

With the exception of some Hindu fundamentalist groups, leading political parties and religious leaders talk about respecting the decision of the court. While both sides appear ready to appeal the case to the Supreme Court, they speak of following the legal process.

Still, it is a different story in the slums, where people remember all too well the mobs that terrorized their communities. One victim tells of the police officer who kicked her in the stomach while she was pregnant with her third child. Many speak of neighbors who turned their heads and closed their doors.

Sudhan and his family and neighbors are watching the case closely. They read about it in the paper daily, and they pray the city never again sees such violence.

“We are waiting for the results, of course,” Sudhan said. His third brother, Altaf Sudhan, added: “My brother was killed because of that matter. I want results.”