Gyanvapi Mosque Case Explained

15 Feb 2024  Read 2443 Views

Did you know that the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue isn't the only temple-mosque conflict in India? There are other controversies surrounding Mughal-era mosques, like the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi, Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah, etc. 

Lately, an archaeological survey marked the twist in a centuries-old legal battle spanning over 30 years. Buckle up because that's exactly what the Gyanvapi Mosque case is all about! This blog will help you to understand the twists and turns of the Gyanvapi Mosque case making this legal dispute simpler for you to understand.

When did the Gyanvapi Mosque Dispute start?

  • In 1991, just before the Babri Masjid demolition, a group of priests from Varanasi filed a suit in the court of the civil judge of Varanasi. They were seeking permission to worship on the premises of the Gyanvapi mosque.
  • The petitioners of 1991 claimed that the mosque was built by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb by demolishing a part of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple during his rule in the 16th century. 
  • Additionally, due to the entire compound being part of the Kashi Vishwanath Parishad, the petitioners argued that the Hindu community should have the Right to Worship there.
  • In 1998, a new case was brought by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee to the Allahabad High Court, arguing that the temple-mosque land dispute couldn't be resolved in a civil court as it was not permissible by the law. As a result, the High Court stayed the proceedings in the lower court for 22 years.

Gyanvapi Masjid Case Revived

  • In 2019, lawyer Vijay Shankar Rastogi filed a petition in the Varanasi court after the Supreme Court's verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. He claimed that the construction of the Gyanvapi Masjid was illegal and asked for an archaeological survey to be done on the mosque. 
  • The petitioner attributed himself as the “next friend" of Swayambhu Jyotirlinga Bhagwan Vishweshwar in the petition.
  • In response, the court instructed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a scientific survey. This decision ignited a chain of legal actions and reactions in the case.
  • In this situation, different courts got involved in the case, making decisions like stays and extensions and questioning different rulings. In 2021, the Allahabad High Court put a halt on the case in the Varanasi court. The HC emphasized a law from 1991 called the Places of Worship Act, which says no changes can be made to the religious nature of a place of worship since 15 August 1947.

Gyanvapi Mosque's Issue: Recent Development 

Aug 2021- Five Hindu women filed a case demanding the court to worship in the temple of Mata Shringar Gauri at "a shrine behind the western wall of the Gyanvapi mosque complex" and to safeguard the idols.

April 2022- A team appointed by a local court to film a video survey of the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque area. During the video survey, they discovered a structure that the Hindu group said was a "Shivling" and the Muslim group argued was a "fountain" within the mosque grounds.

July 2023- The Varanasi district court ordered a scientific examination of the Gyanvapi mosque complex to determine whether the mosque was built over the pre-existing structure of a Hindu temple.

Aug 2023- The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) resumed its survey under tight security measures after both the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court permitted it. This decision came despite objections from the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee for Gyanvapi mosque and the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, whose pleas were dismissed by the courts.

Dec 2023-  The ASI presented its findings from the scientific survey of the Gyanvapi mosque area to the Varanasi district court. The report stated that there used to be a big Hindu temple before the mosque was built.

29 January 2024- Four Hindu women petitioned the Supreme Court, asking for excavation and scientific study of a closed part of the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi, which has remained sealed under the direction of the SC since May 2022. 

31 January 2024- The Varanasi district court permitted people to conduct pooja in the cellar on the southern side of the Gyanvapi mosque complex, which is also known as the 'Vyasji Ka Tehkhana'. The court instructed the district administration to organize the pooja for the Hindu side and a priest chosen by the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust.

Findings of Archaeological Survey of India's Report?

The ASI surveyed the Gyanvapi mosque complex, where a total of 55 stone sculptures were found, including the idols of Hindu Deities.

According to the ASI report, it seems that a temple was destroyed in the 17th century, when Aurangzeb was ruling, and some of its parts were changed and used again in the building that exists today.

According to the ASI report, it seems that a temple was destroyed in the 17th century, when Aurangzeb was ruling, and some of its parts were changed and used again in the building that exists today.

How the Places of Worship Act is Back in Focus

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board termed the court’s order for the video survey of the Gyanvapi mosque premise as a clear violation of The Places of Worship Act, 1991, which aims to maintain the status quo of 1947 for all places of worship. This Act has been effective since 11 July 1991.

Section 4(1) of the Act says that the religious identity of a place of worship as it stood on 15 August 1947 shall remain unchanged.

Section 3 of the Act says that no religious place can be changed in any way, not even to serve a specific group within the religion.

The mosque committee said that the fresh suits brought in 2021 about the "right to worship" were not allowed by The Places of Worship Act of 1991. They believed these cases were trying to bring back a problem that the law had already solved.

Conclusion

The Allahabad High Court on 15 February 2024 reserved its judgement in the Gyanvapi Mosque committee's appeal challenging the Varanasi Court's 31 January order allowing pooja in 'Vyasji Ka Tehkhana'. As the dispute over the Gyanvapi Mosque continues to unfold, it raises significant questions about the intersection of history, religion, and law in India. 

What do you think about how will the Archaeological Survey of India's discoveries affect the Gyanvapi Mosque's future? How will the courts balance religious freedoms with the Places of Worship Act from 1991? 

About the Author: Anirudh Nikhare | 25 Post(s)

Anirudh did his Bachelor's in Law and has practical experience in IPR, Contracts, and Corporate. He is your go-to legal content writer turning head-scratching legal topics into easy-to-understand gems of wisdom. Through his blog, he aims to empower readers with knowledge, making legal concepts digestible and applicable to everyday life.

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