There is no legal route to lawfully challenge the continuing presence of the two mosques on encroached temple property
With the Ayodhya dispute settled in their favour by the Supreme Court, some Hindu organizations are now eyeing the mosques adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple (in Varanasi) and the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple (in Mathura). The Gyanvapi Mosque and the Shahi Idgah Mosque respectively came up after the demolition of temples, which were later reconstructed.
The first step has been taken by a Lucknow-based trust, Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh. It has petitioned the Supreme Court, challenging the validity of Section 4 of The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. It is because, as long as this Act remains in place in the form it exists today, there is no legal route to lawfully challenge the continuing presence of the two mosques on encroached temple property.
The plea said that Parliament, by way of the Act, retrospectively created a cut-off date of August 15, 1947, for its implementation.
The legislation had been enacted by the Narasimha Rao government in 1991, almost a year before the Babri Mosque, was demolished in Ayodhya. The main purpose of the Act was to “prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide 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 Ayodhya issue was kept out of this law’s purview since it was already under adjudication. The idea was to maintain the nature of a place of worship, whether a temple, mosque, church, or any other religious shrine. But the move was seen as primarily to preempt attempts to legally target the continuation of the mosques adjacent to the Shiva temple in Varanasi and the Krishna temple in Mathura since many Hindu bodies then had announced that they would not rest unless these shrines were ‘liberated’.
The Mahasangh has challenged the constitutional validity of Section 4, arguing that it “barred the right and remedy against encroachment made on the religious property of Hindus” by invaders and others before August 15, 1947. it added that Parliament had through the Act retrospectively determined cut-off date.
The plea said that Parliament, by way of the Act, retrospectively created a cut-off date of August 15, 1947, for its implementation. The Act declares that the character of a place of worship as in existence on that day, shall be maintained and that no suit or any proceeding shall lie in any court in respect of any dispute against the encroachment of any religious properties at any point of time before this date.
The petition further said, “The result is that Hindu devotees cannot raise their grievance by instituting any suit in Civil Court or invoking the jurisdiction of the Honourable High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India against high handiness (sic) of ultras and will not be able to restore back the religious character of Hindu endowments, temples, mutts, etc from hoodlums if they had encroached upon such property before 15th August 1947…”
For the Hindus, the celestial world may be ruled by the triumvirate of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. But on earth, it is the Shiva-Rama-Krishna trio that is most revered.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court had observed in its verdict on the Ayodhya dispute that The Places of Worship Act reflected the secular values of the Constitution. “The law is hence a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution.”
The Mahasangh’s petition has been challenged with great promptness by a prominent Muslim body, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH). Arguing that it be given a chance to contest the petition, the JUH said the court should not even issue a notice since it would make the Muslim community in the country insecure, more so after the Ayodhya verdict.
Meanwhile, there will be many who will argue that the Mathura and Varanasi mosques’ issues should not be raised. After all, several temples were destroyed by Muslim invaders and during Mughal rulers, and all of that cannot be reversed since it would lead to chaos and communal disharmony on a large scale in the country. However, they should not miss the point that the Kashi Vishwanath Temple and the Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple have a special place for millions of Hindus in the country and elsewhere. Varanasi is the land of Lord Shiva and the temple in his name in the city is the foremost of all temples that exist of this deity anywhere in the world. The Mathura temple complex stands where Lord Krishna was said to be born. Both these temples were destroyed and rebuilt later. The mosques that stand in the vicinity are incongruous to the religious sentiments of Hindus.
For the Hindus, the celestial world may be ruled by the triumvirate of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. But on earth, it is the Shiva-Rama-Krishna trio that is most revered. Therefore, there is added religious importance to their most prominent shrines. There are many numbers of temples in the country dedicated to the three, but the ones in Varanasi, Mathura, and Ayodhya are the spearheads.
Nobody is arguing that these mosques should be demolished like the Babri structure. That should never happen. But any closure of legal remedies to address the matter could be dangerous since it can arouse passions and has the potential to result in a major confrontation between the communities. After all, it was the Supreme Court that brought an end to the decades-old dispute in Ayodhya, and if it is called upon to settle the Kashi and Mathura issues, it would be good if it addresses the matter, even if it means revisiting the Places of Worship Act.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.