Indian Court’s involvement in escalating Hindutva claims; From Babri to Gyanvapi

Indian Court ordered to seal a portion of the Gyanvapi mosque. Furthermore, only 20 Muslims would be allowed to pray in the mosque.

A pattern seen in several disputes over religious sites: the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, the Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura, the Qutb Minar in Delhi and the Kamal-ud-Din mosque in Madhya Pradesh.

Courts, especially those at the lower level, have played an active role in escalating these disputes.
Hindutva claims about the Mughal-era Gyanvapi mosque, two cases before civil courts in Varanasi have sparked off a controversy.

On April 8, 2022, a civil judge appointed Ajay Kumar as an advocate commissioner to undertake a videographic survey of the mosque and submit it to the court. He could also ask for police assistance, if required. The Muslim side protested Kumar’s appointment, as his name had been suggested by the plaintiffs.

On May 12, the court refused to replace Kumar but appointed two more advocate commissioners to assist him in the videography. It directed the district administration to break the locks if required and register a first information report against those who create a hindrance.

According to former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Amar Saran this survey contravened the Places of Worship Act, which prohibits even attempts to convert a place of worship. Therefore, “the lower courts are complicit in perpetrating an illegality”.

Then on Monday, before even the report was submitted, at a hearing where the mosque representatives were not present, the court took note of the Hindu petitioners’ submission that an idol of Hindu god Shiva — had allegedly been found in the water tank. Based on this, it ordered that a portion of the Gyanvapi mosque be sealed. It also said that only 20 Muslims would be allowed to pray in the mosque.

The mosque side has contested this claim, saying that the structure is actually a fountain. The next day, the advocate commissioner was removed for leaking information to the press.

The Muslim side had challenged the videography survey of the mosque before the Allahabad High Court. However, the high court rejected their plea in April 2021, saying that the court orders “hardly decide anything and are ones of a very processual kind, that would lead to a report of local inspection”.

The Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura, meanwhile, is the subject of more than a dozen cases in various lower courts in Mathura and in the Allahabad High Court. Several Hindus claim that the mosque has been built at the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna. Hindus want possession of the land and the right to worship in the mosque till their petitions are disposed of.
In Madhya Pradesh, the high court on May 11 issued a notice on petitions by a Hindu group challenging a 2003 order by the Archaeological Survey of India that allowed Hindus and Muslims to use the Kamal-ud-Din mosque on different days. The structure is claimed by Hindus to be a temple of the goddess Saraswati called Bhojshala and a mosque by Muslims.

A photo of the Krishna temple in Mathura and Shahi Idgah the mosque next to it.

In Delhi, the Saket court on May 24 will hear a case relating to the Qutb Minar, which claims that several Hindu and Jain temples were demolished to make a mosque inside the monument. This is the second time that the matter is being heard by the courts. It was first heard by a civil court, which rejected the appeal in November 2021, saying that past wrongs “cannot be the basis for disturbing the peace of our present and future”.

As for these examples are concerned, Indian courts have often encouraged communal disputes. On May 12, the Allahabad High Court summarily dismissed a public interest litigation filed by Rajneesh Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party official who heads of party’s Ayodhya media unit. He asked for an archaeological survey of the Taj Mahal. The court said that these issues were “non-justiciable” and best left to historians.

It was the order of a district court in Uttar Pradesh in 1986 that “triggered a chain reaction leading to the demolition” of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by Hindutva activists five years later. This is what Justice S.U. Khan of the Allahabad High Court observed in a judgment in the Ayodhya title suit in 2010.

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