Sacred sites fonn a vital component in manifesting the right to freedom of religion. They also function as identity icons for the religious communities in a multi-religious state like India. Protecting them therefore, from aggression, or demolition by states and non-state actors is fundamental to guaranteeing such freedom. The consequences of attacking a sacred site are obvious from the Ayodhya dispute, in which all three organs of the Indian state failed to protect the Babri Masjid from illegal demolition, and to prevent the subsequent nationwide riots. However, the legal failure of the judiciary is quite apparent from the fact that it could not adjudicate an ongoing dispute for more than forty-two years. This protracted delay helped the religious militant groups to transfonn a local issue into a national dispute which has affected the secular and democratic fabric of contemporary India. This presents a further challenge to the pluralistic nature of Indian society and threatens peace and security in the South Asian region.
The inadequacy of domestic legal mechanisms to settle disputes and provide remedy for violation of human rights warrants intervention at the level of international law. The existing international law provisions, namely, the right to freedom of religion, rights of the minorities, right to property and protection of cultural rights, have failed to include the protection of sacred sites as a right to a religious community. The global human rights mechanisms are mostly monitoring bodies and lack the judicial power. In promoting and protecting human rights, the regional human rights mechanisms, particularly t~e regional courts, have made use of their ability to deliver binding decisions on member states. The inadequacies in international law are best addressed' by a regional convention for the protection of sacred sites, embedded in the existing structures of SAARC.
Faculty of Humanities and Social SciencesSchool of Law
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