On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered directed the District Magistrate of Varanasi to ensure protection of the area inside the Gyanvapi-Shringar Gauri complex where a 'Shivling' is said to have been found in the survey and allowed Muslims to offer ‘Namaz’ and perform “religious observances”. The ruling is being considered significant amid a row regarding the history of the mosque and whether or not it was built after razing a Hindu temple.
Meanwhile, the Varanasi court, which had ordered the videography survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid complex, Tuesday removed Advocate Commissioner Ajay Mishra for displaying "irresponsible behaviour towards the discharge of his duties", while it also granted two more days to the commission to file the survey report.
The case has stirred fresh controversy in the country with many likening it to the Ayodhya case and the Babri-Ram Janmbhoomi dispute. However, this is the not first petition to make it to courts this year in which petitioners have sought probes into the origins of mosques in the name of protecting Indian and Hindu heritage.
While the Places Of Worship Act passed by the Parliament in 1991 prohibits attempts to convert the religious character of a place of worship from its existing state as on August 15, 1947, this year has seen a flurry of petitions for inspections within mosques and pleas to turn Muslim places of worship to temples. A majority of these please have been filed by Hindutva ideologues, members of fringe Hindu outfits and the Bhartiya Janata Party.
Krishna Janmabhoomi dispute
Amid the Gyanvapi mosque-Gauri Shringar complex dispute, at least four cases are pending in local courts regarding the 17th century Shahi Idgah Masjid that stands adjacent to the 'Krishna Janmabhoomi' spot. According to Hindutva groups and petitioners, the mosque was built in1669-70 in the 13.37-acre premises of Katra Keshav Dev. A string of lawsuits in Mathura courts has demanded the removal of the mosque. In 2020, a court had dismissed a plea seeking removal of the mosque. However, the Allahabad High Court recently ordered the cases in the matter to be sorted within the next four months, prompting petitions to appoint a commissioner for surveying the temple in a similar fashion as the Gyanvapi mosque.
Two applications were filed last week in a Mathura court for an early appointment of a senior advocate commissioner for “verifying the presence of signs of a Hindu temple” at the mosque site so that they are not tampered with while the cases are decided legally.
Idols in Taj Mahal
Earlier in May this year, the Allahabad High Court dismissed a plea seeking a ”fact-finding inquiry” into the history of the Taj Mahal and the “opening of 22 rooms” on the monument’s premises, saying the petitioner failed to point out which of his legal or constitutional rights were being infringed. The petition has been filed by Rajneesh Singh, who is in charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s media desk in Ayodhya. Singh alleged that several Hindu groups claimed that the Mughal-era mausoleum was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple.
The court ruled that such discussions were fit for drawing rooms but not courtrooms. However, the claims that Taj Mahal was built on the ruins of an ancient Shiva temple - christened 'Tejo Mahalaya' by the likes of controversial 'Indologist' PN Oak. Several BJP leaders such as Kapil Mishra and others have time and again called for the inspection of Taj Mahal for remains of Hindu temples. Unsubstantiated articles on these dubious origins of the Taj Mahal periodically make the rounds of the right-wing Hindutva ecosystem on social media.
Vishnu stambh, not Qutab Minar
Petitions regarding the restoration of 27 Hindu and Jain temples have also been doing the rounds in Delhi courts. On Tuesday (May 17) itself, a Saket Court adjourned the hearing of an appeal regarding the restoration of 27 Hindu and Jain temples in the Qutub Minar complex in Mehrauli to May 24. The petitioner claim that the Quwwat-Ul-Islam Masjid situated within the Qutub Minar complex was built from the rubble of temples. The suit, filed on behalf of Jain deity Tirthankar Lord Rishabh Dev and Hindu deity Lord Vishnu (through their next friends), seeks restoration of the alleged temple complex.
Previously, the BJP and organisations like the VHP have made attempts to establish Qutab Minar as 'Vishnu Stambh'. VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal claimed in April that the 73-metre-high structure was built on a temple of lord Vishnu constructed during the times of a Hindu ruler and that it should be converted to Vishnu Stambh. National Monument Authority (NMA) chairman and BJP leader Tarun Vijay has also alleged that Ganesha idols were placed “disrespectfully” in the Qutab Minar complex.
While these are some of the petitions pending or underway across Indian courts regarding the religious conversion of mosques, critics have claimed that such petitions can harm the secular social fabric of India and be contrary to the values enshrined in the Constitution and Places of Worship Act 1991. Members of civil society have also raised the issue of selective targeting of mosques as a way to target the Muslim community in India.
(With inputs from PTI)