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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 13:16 GMT
Digging for truth at Ayodhya
By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC corresponsdent in Ayodhya

The archaeologists must complete work in a month
Jeep-loads of excavators are in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya to carry out work at a controversial holy site disputed between Hindus and Muslims.

Never before in India's history has a team of archaeologists been under such scrutiny - or handled as delicate an assignment.

Now, it is up to this group of excavators to dig out the truth and help resolve one of modern India's most bloody disputes involving the Muslim minority and Hindu nationalists.

Rajendra Mohan Srivastava is the divisional commissioner of Ayodhya and the chief custodian of the disputed piece of land.

"Every record shall be maintained manually and also care shall be taken that none of the fragile objects is broken," he says.

"Everything shall be done to follow the court order in letter and spirit."

Matter of faith

In another part of Ayodhya, stone carvers chip away in a workshop.

Ratan Lal Sharma, stone carver
Work is already under way to build a temple
They are working to build pillars and idols of Hindu gods which will be placed inside the planned grand temple to Lord Ram, if and when the dispute is settled in favour of the Hindus.

For those working here, most of whom have made Ayodhya their home for the past several years, the existence of a temple underneath the ruins is a matter of faith, not judicial intervention.

Ratan Lal Sharma is a stone carver who has left his family behind in the north-western state of Rajasthan.

He told me he has immense faith in God and has left the issue of whether or not a temple is ever constructed to the Almighty.

"There is no question in my mind that the temple should be built," he says.

Muslims wary

Relations between Hindus and Muslims have never been the same since 6 December 1992, when a mob of Hindus demolished the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

Some analysts believe that the process of digging may actually open a Pandora's box
It sparked off unprecedented Hindu-Muslim riots in the country.

Thousands have been killed in religious violence across the country in the past 10 years and every time there is a new development on the Ayodhya issue, Indian Muslims become apprehensive about their safety.

Haji Mahboob, a respected leader of the Muslim community in Ayodhya, says excavation is unlikely to resolve the dispute.

"It's all politics. The government just wants that this issue is never resolved and that it always remains complicated.

"It suits them. I don't think excavation will solve any problems or throw any new evidence."

Haji Mahboob, Muslim
Local Muslim leader Haji Mahboob can see no end to the row
It's not the just the residents of the holy town of Ayodhya but all of India who are waiting for the outcome of the excavation.

But not many believe that the exercise will solve the problem.

Some analysts even believe that the process of digging may actually open a Pandora's box - especially if different religious groups decide to rake up contentious issues from India's complex past.

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