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Gyanvapi Case: What Did the Varanasi Court Say?

Court gave its first verdict on Gyanvapi Mosque case
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On September 12, Monday, the Varanasi district court gave its first verdict in the Gyanvapi dispute. The court dismissed the challenge by Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee against the civil suits that sought the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri and other deities within the Gyanvapi mosque premises. 

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Varanasi District Judge Dr Ajay Krishna Vishvesha said, “I have come to the conclusion that the suit of the plaintiffs is not barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 (Act no.42 of 1991), The Waqf Act 1995 (Act no.43 of 1995) and the U.P. Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983 (Act no.29 of 1983) and the application 35C filed by the defendant no. 4 is liable to be dismissed.”

The Muslim side argued that allowing the civil suits would alter the character of the mosque as it has existed for over 600 years. However, the suit filed by Rakhi Singh and four other women, claimed that Hindus had been worshipping Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha and other visible and invisible deities daily at the said property till as recently as 1993, after which the Uttar Pradesh government restricted the worship to one day a year.

Based on this averment of the plaintiffs in their suit, the court rejected the arguments that the Places of Worship Act, 1991 barred the suit. It ruled that to decide the challenge to the maintainability of the suit under Order VII, rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, it only needed to consider the averments made by the plaintiffs and not the defence of those averments, the court rules, “Therefore, the Places of Worship(Special Provisions) Act, 1991 does not operate as bar on the suit of the plaintiffs and the suit of plaintiffs is not barred by Section 9 of the Act”.  

Dismissing the said suit, the court also directed both the sides to frame the issues and questions of the law that have to be dealt within the main suit. Varanasi district judge A K Vishvesh agreed to hear the petition filed by five Hindu women who sought permission to worship daily what they claim are idols of Hindu deities located on an outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque. The court fixed September 22 as the next date of hearing in the case.

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The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), on Monday said that the Varanasi court’s order in the Gyanvapi Shrinagar Gauri dispute is very ‘disappointing and painful’. In a statement, the AIMPLB condemned the Varanasi court’s decision and said that the ‘minority community will feel that the doors of justice are closed’ if the Worship Act 1991 was not protected.

AIMPLB said in a statement “The government should strongly protect the 1991 Worship Act otherwise the minority community will be disappointed with justice and will feel that all the doors of justice are closed for them,”.

Welcoming the court’s decision, the Hindu side said that the verdict is a win for the Hindu side. Advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain said “The court rejected the Muslim side’s petition and said the suit is maintainable. The next hearing of the case is on September 22“.

The court noted that the suit filed by the Hindu women “is limited and confined to the right of worship as a civil right and fundamental right as well as customary and religious right”. The court emphasized that the suit neither sought a declaration or injunction over the property in question, nor did it seek the conversion of the mosque into a temple.

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The determination of religious character is a matter of evidence which can be laid by either of the parties. The plaintiffs have laid down foundation to establish that the religious character of the property in dispute was of Hindu temple and deities were being worshipped within the property in dispute,” the court said, concluding, “Therefore, the parties to the suit are required to prove before the court regarding the religious character of the property as was prevalent on August 15, 1947.”.

As for the acquisition of a mosque by the state, the court held that irrespective of the immunity mosques have from state acquisition in Islamic countries, its status and immunity from acquisition in the “secular ethos of India under the Constitution is the same and equal to that of places of worship of other religions”. 

Sohan Lal Arya, the petitioner said “It’s a win for the Hindu community. The next hearing is on Sep 22. It’s a foundation stone for the Gyanvapi temple. Appeal to people to maintain peace.”

The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee (AIMC) said a committee of lawyers will study the district court’s judgement and accordingly challenge it in the high court. All-India Muslim Women Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB) president and social activist Shaista Ambar said: “I would like to say that we, as Indians, should not get too caught up and tangled in matters of masjids/mandirs and not let propaganda fuelled by religion sentiments divide us.”

Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) said  “I was hoping that the court will nip these issues in the bud. Now it appears that more such litigations will be coming and this is going the way the Babri Masjid legal issue went. Everyone will say that we have been here before 15 August 1947. Then the aim of the 1991 Places of Religious Worship Act will be defeated. The 1991 Act was made so that such conflicts end. But after today’s order, it seems there will be more litigation on this issue and we will be back to the ’80s and it will create a destabilising effect.” 

The verdict given by the Varanasi court has given hope for justice in other disputed religious buildings cases also. 

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