On Saturday, the court allowed the construction of a Ram temple on the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site and directed the Centre to allot a separate 5-acre piece of land for building a mosque. All eyes are now on the state and central governments to usher in development to the temple town.
While Ayodhya, home to about 8,000 temples, has seen a fresh carpeting of roads and the installation of street lights since the Yogi Adityanath-led government came to power in Uttar Pradesh, employment and income generation opportunities are few. The only thriving businesses in the town are those that are selling religious items and books.
Hopes of the town’s residents are now pinned on the construction of the temple and attracting millions of pilgrims.
“Ram Janmabhoomi is in the absolute interior. So, no one really feels the need to buy from stores in this section of Ayodhya. We are hoping that the construction of a temple will boost business because more people will come to this side and our sales will go up," said Om Prakash Pandit, who runs a store selling religious books next to the site of the proposed temple.
Ram Janmabhoomi, where the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition in 1992, witnesses an average footfall of 15,000 people a day, with the number going up to 250,000 during festivals such as Ram Navami, the Ram Janmabhoomi priest informed.
“It is only during these festivals that we make some money. On other days, we make anything between ₹200-700 which is not enough to feed a family and save. None of us have ever gone hungry, but we are hoping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will now build the temple fast so that the damage we’ve suffered all these years is lessened," said Manohar Sharma, who is one of the many locker operators at the entry point of the Ram Janmabhoomi site.
The disputed site has turned into a fortress after Saturday’s verdict. From Hanuman Garhi, an arterial point in Ayodhya, the Ram Janmabhoomi is almost a 3km trek away. Scores of state police personnel frisk pilgrims at the entry point.
When Mint visited the site on Sunday, there were four checkpoints at which pilgrims were frisked by security personnel.
From the final checkpoint, Janmabhoomi lies about 100 metres away, requiring a walk through a barricaded structure that requires pilgrims to be in a single file.
At the disputed site itself, there is no trace of the demolished Babri Masjid. Amid elephant grass and companies of paramilitary personnel is a white tent which holds a miniature statue of Ram. The tent now stands where the Babri Masjid once stood.
Belief that this plot of land is the rightful birthplace of Ram as well as the compound where Sita once cooked, is widespread.
“That place is where Ram was born," said Bansi Pandey, pointing to the site. “A part of Ram and Sita’s living quarters were there. There is a curse that no matter what structure is built on that, except a temple, it will be brought down."
“That morning (6 December 1992) at around 11:30 we were called to join the Kar Sevaks. It took us about 5-6 hours to bring down the mosque and we did. Everyone joined in. The police did not stop us either. It was ordained that the land will have nothing but a temple," said Pandey, who runs a successful sweet shop in the area.
The demolition was the outcome of former BJP president L.K. Advani leading a Rath Yatra to the temple town. It was also the spark that set an already simmering Ayodhya ablaze.
“We did not need any coaxing. We were ready to bring the mosque down for a long time and we have no regrets. We were a bunch of 18-19 year olds and we tried to get on top of the structure, but it fell. We watched the Kar Sevaks break the domes from within because it did not crack from the outside and within a matter of two or three hours, it was done," said Ramesh Pandey, who runs a business close to the entry to the Ram Janmabhoomi.
Many locals hail the verdict as an outcome that was only possible because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Even as the judgement is seen independent of any political machinations, Ayodhya has credited the outcome to efforts made by the BJP.
“The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party would earlier do very basic things here. But ever since the BJP has come to power, Ayodhya has seen development. We hope that the BJP will continue like this and Prime Minister Modi will realise how important it will be to our tourism economy," said Ram Prakash Sharma, who operates e-rickshaws in Ayodhya.
“No other party has been able to do something like this. It’s a centuries-old argument and in the last 27 years, it has done a lot of damage. Each time a small hearing happened in court, Ayodhya would be tense. All that is now over. And only one party has had the courage to do it," said 80-year-old Krishna Nath Pandit, referring to the BJP.