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Story So Far: Gyanvapi Mosque Dispute

A Varanasi court rejected the plea for carbon dating of the Shivling that is said to be found with the Gyanvapi Mosque property.

Credit : Indie Journal

A Varanasi court on Friday rejected the plea for carbon dating of the Shivling that is said to be found with the Gyanvapi Mosque property. The Gyanvapi Masjid is located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

The Anjuman Intezamina Masjid Committee (AIMC) had objected to the carbon dating plea that was challenged by the Hindu petitioners. The Advocate, Akhlaq Ahmed representing the group mentioned that “the court stated that this would be a violation of the Supreme Court order".

However, the Varanasi Court rejected the plea of four women plaintiffs for carbon dating and scientific investigation of the structure citing the Supreme Court's order to protect the spot where a purported 'Shivling' had been found in the ablution pond of the Gyanvapi compound during the survey of the court commissioner. The Hindu side said that it will approach the Supreme Court against the Varanasi district judge's order.

Meanwhile, the mosque management has challenged in the Allahabad High Court a Varanasi District Court order, which dismissed its plea against the civil suits that sought the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri and other deities within the mosque premises.

Earlier this year, a group of five Hindu women, Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas and Rekha Pathak filed a plea at the Varanasi civil court and demanded the right to worship Hindu deities whose idols are located on the outer wall of Gyanvapi Mosque. After this, the Varanasi court appointed an advocate commissioner and also ordered a videography survey of the area. At this point, the AIMC challenged the decision. While this stalled the court's decision for a while, the committee was later asked to go ahead with the survey.

Following this, it was said that a Shivling was found in the Wazu Khana, a place for the worshipers to wash their hands and feet. But the masjid committee said that it was a part of the fountain system. The AIMC filed a plea in the Supreme Court questioning the maintainability of the case referring to the Places of Worship Act, 1991. The Act prohibits the conversion of any place of worship that provides maintenance of the religious character of the place that existed on August 15, 1947.

However, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the district judge of Varanasi on May 20, quoting the complexities and sensitivity of the case, which was why it said, it was better for a senior judicial officer to tackle it.



On September 12, the single bench that was led by district judge AK Vishvesh laid down that the Places of Worship Act should not be considered since the petitioners were only “demanding a right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri and other visible and invisible deities which were being worshipped incessantly till 1993 and after 1993 till now once a year” and that they are not claiming ownership of the disputed property”. This is why the Varanasi court considered that the Hindu plaintiff’s plea is maintainable and the court shall continue to hear the matter that regards the rights of the Hindu devotees to worship at the Masjid.  

The SC ordered the district judge to decide the application under Order 7 Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC) that was filed by the Mosque committee. This order expresses the maintainability of the suits filed by the plaintiffs.

This is not the first time that the Gyanvapi mosque, located next to the Kashi Vishweshwar temple in Varanasi, is facing a legal dispute. The first such petition was filed in 1991 by Swayambhu Jyotirlinga Bhagwan Vishweshwar. The petition demanded the right to worship at the Mosque. This was around the same time when the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was at its peak in Ayodhya. The AIMC took it to the Allahabad High Court at the time.  The high court in its order said that as per the Places of Worship Act, 1991, the law prohibits any change in the religious character of a place of worship from as it existed on August 15, 1947.

The dispute, however, went on for 22 years and was revived in 2019 when an individual named Rastogi pleaded on behalf of Vishweshwar. His plea demanded an Archeological survey to be conducted at the site. In 2020 AIMC opposed the plea petition seeking the Archeological survey’s data on the whole matter. Later on, in 2021, a Public Information Litigation (PIL) was filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, the plea sought permission to worship the deities at the mosque premises.

The Gyanvapi case is not the only such dispute. Several such petitions have been filed under the right to worship. While the debate on the Gyanvapi case was revived, several petitioners also filed a plea challenging the Right to Worship at the Quwwatul Islam Mosque which according to the ASI falls under the Qutub Minar complex. The plea was filed under the prevention of idols discovered inside the Mosque. To this, the ASI suggested to the court that the petition should be denied since it is unsustainable and had no locus standi.

Meanwhile, in September the Mathura Civil Court gathered to hear the Krishna Janmabhoomi and the Shahi Idgah Mosque dispute, in this case one of the petitions demanded the removal of the Shahi Idgah and handover the whole land to the Hindus. While the other petition argued that the court should order the protection of evidence of the temple present in the Shahi Idgah.