The Varanasi District Court on 13 September delivered its verdict in the long-awaited Gyanvapi-Kashi Vishwanath case wherein Hindus had filed a petition seeking worship rights inside the Gyanvapi compound where the World-famous Kashi Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi Mosque are situated.
The petition was opposed by the Management Committee of the Mosque who said the petition is not maintainable because the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 (the ACT) forbids any such litigation.
The Act prohibits ‘conversion of any place of worship’ and ‘provides for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto’.
The Muslim Opposition claimed that the ACT stops any such litigation which will then lead to converting the mosque into a temple and thus changing the character of the building from being a mosque to being a temple.
That is correct.
But the fact is that Hindus had rights and continued to perform ‘pooja and archana’ (worship) there in the compound are where Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Hanuman and Lord Ganesha are resident – the part of compound which has been controlled by the management committee of the mosque.
The rights continued until November 1993 (until 2004 according to BJP’s Prem Shukla) and were taken away from Hindus by the then UP government led by Mulayam Singh Yadav to appease Muslims.
Because the petitioners in this case sought restoration of their rights to perform ‘pooja and archana’ for Maa Shringar Gauri and other Hindu gods, which had always existed and continued until 2004 unrestrained, the petition did not invoke the ACT.
To invoke the ACT, the petition had to seek something which did not exist on 15 August 1947.
The fact that Hindus’ right to worship existed on August 15, 1947 and continued until 2004 when it was suddenly taken away from them, the Civil Courts in the jurisdiction definitely have the right to adjudicate such disputes, as the District Court of Varanasi did in this case.
It is completely unsurprising, that the District Judge Dr AK Vishvesha dismissed the plea filed by the Muslim party, Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, contesting the maintainability of the suit, while noting that the plaintiffs only sought a right to worship, not a declaration over the land.
“They want to worship Maa Sringar Gauri and other visible and invisible deities with the contention that they worshipped there till the year 1993 and the plaintiffs are not claiming ownership over the disputed property,” the order reads.
The court noted that the demand was limited to a right to worship Maa Sringar Gauri and other visible and invisible deities, which were being worshipped incessantly till 1993, and only once a year after that.
“Therefore, the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 does not operate as the bar on the suit of plaintiffs. The suit of the plaintiffs is limited and confined to the right of worship as a civil right and fundamental right as well as customary and religious right. I agree with the learned counsel for the plaintiffs.”
The Muslim Opposition also submitted in the alternative that the Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the petition claiming the suit was barred by The Waqf Act.
The suit would be barred by the Waqf Act only if both sides were Muslims and the dispute related to a disputed Waqf property.
You can read the judgement here.