The decades-old Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath case reached the Supreme Court on May 13 after a local court in Varanasi directed that a videography survey be allowed to continue in the religious complex.
On May 16, a local court in Varanasi directed the district administration to seal the spot in the Gyanvapi mosque complex where a “Shivalinga” was allegedly found during a court-mandated videography survey. The three-day survey, which was conducted amid tight security, was over in the morning.
The Supreme Court had on May 13 refused to grant an interim stay on the videography survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath Temple complex in Varanasi, which was ordered by a local court. Chief Justice of India N.V. Raman, however, said on May 13 that the apex court would examine the documents in the petition seeking to stop the videography, and later directed that the matter be referred to Justice D.V. Chandrachud.
The development comes after a Varanasi court ordered the survey commissioner to resume videography inside the Gyanvapi mosque, directing that the inspection of the premises be completed by Tuesday. The controversy stems from a case filed in a Varanasi court by five Hindu women, seeking the right and access to daily prayers at Maa Shringar Gauri, a Hindu site located outside the western wall of the Gyanvapi mosque.
Historical Claims Around the Mosque
Some believe that the Kashi Vishwanath temple has undergone several reconstructions, with an older version of the temple where the Gyanvapi Mosque is today. Some historians believe that the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb built the Gyanvapi Mosque in the 17th century by demolishing the temple.
Writer-historian Audrey Truschke, in her book Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth, writes: “My understanding is that the Gyanvapi mosque was actually built during the reign of Aurangzeb. The mosque includes the structure of the old Vishwanath temple – that of Aurangzeb. Destroyed on orders – in the form of its Qibla wall (an important wall in front of Mecca). While the mosque dates back to the time of Aurangzeb, we do not know who built it.”
Architectural historian Madhuri Desai, on the other hand, wrote that the Vishwanath temple was built only in 1776–77 and that no temple construction could date back to the sixteenth century, in an article published in the Review of Traditional Habitats and Settlements. He wrote that the Vishwanath temple was built long after the Gyanvapi mosque, and is located adjacent to the latter.
When did the legal dispute begin?
The Gyanvapi Masjid-Kashi Vishwanath dispute first reached the courts in 1991, when a petition sought the removal of the mosque from the site and the transfer of possession of the land to the Hindu community.
The petitioners, including the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Trust, claimed that Maharaja Vikramaditya had built the temple 2,000 years ago. The mosque was only built after the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb ordered the temple to be demolished in 1664.
The petitioners alleged that the Gyanvapi Masjid was built on a stretch of land using the temple’s ruins, adding that the remains of the old temple can still be seen next to the mosque.
The legal litigation was at the climax of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue in Ayodhya. Interestingly, the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi mosque complex was featured as one of three religious sites during the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Ram Janmabhoomi movement along with the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura.
In 1998, the managing committee of the mosque filed an application before the court, seeking the dismissal of the trust’s petition. Referring to the provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, the committee argued that the dispute relating to places of worship could not be adjudicated as it was barred by law. The trial court rejected the application, following which the committee approached the high court.
The committee also told the court that the temple and the mosque had co-existed for a long time and both the communities were offering prayers in their respective temples without any hindrance.
The court stayed the proceedings and the legal battle lay dormant for more than 20 years before being revived in 2019.
What are the Places of Worship Act, 1991?
In the wake of the Ram Mandir movement in Ayodhya, P.V. The Narasimha Rao-led government enacted the Places of Worship Act in September 1991. In order to maintain communal harmony, the Act stated that the religious character of the places of worship would be maintained as it existed on August 15, 1947. The law maintained the disputed structure. Ayodhya was out of its scope, mainly because it was already the subject of litigation.
The purpose of this act was to pre-empt new claims by any group about the past condition of any place of worship and to attempt to retrieve the structures or land on which they stood.
Section 4 of the Act provided that all pending cases relating to claims at places of worship would be closed, and no further proceedings could be filed.
Certain sites were exempted from the purview of this section, including ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It will also not apply to any suit that was settled before the 1991 Act came into force.
A new suit in 2019
In December 2019, a constitution bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi delivered its verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute, a month after the disputed land was allotted for temple construction, a new suit was filed. A local court in Varanasi on the Gyanvapi-Vishwanath dispute.
Advocate Vijay Shankar Rastogi, one of the lawyers in the Babri Masjid case, filed a petition seeking a survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a “friend” of the self-styled god Vishweshwara, the deity of the Vishwanath temple. was done. ,
Masjid Management Committee and U.P. The Sunni Waqf Board then appealed the lower court’s decision to the Allahabad High Court, which fell heavily on the local court to decide on the application filed by the plaintiff in the original (1991) suit, when the judgment therein was reserved by the HC.
The High Court granted an interim stay on the proceedings of the local court and the ASI survey ordered by it. In April last year, a Varanasi court had directed the ASI to conduct a survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple to find out whether it was “imposition, alteration or addition of any kind of structural overlapping, is more or less with any other religious structure”.
Adding another chapter to their protracted legal battle, a group of five women affiliated with the right-wing group Vishwa Vaidik Sanatan Sangh filed a petition in April this year demanding daily access to the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal (sacred site) at Gyanvapi Masjid. Kashi Vishwanath Complex.
Submitting to the court that behind the western wall of the Gyanvapi mosque there is an image of Goddess Shringar Gauri, the petitioners sought permission to offer daily prayers and perform other rituals of “deities visible and invisible within the old temple complex”. Settlement Plot No. 9130 in the area of Ward and Thana Dashwamedh.
Civil Judge (Senior Division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar appointed an Advocate Commissioner and directed him to survey the site and submit his report on May 10. Alleging that the commissioner of the court was biased and objected to conducting a video graphics survey inside the mosque.
Mr. Yadav said that during the survey, the commissioner demanded to open the locks of the barricades of the mosque for videography. He also alleged that the commissioner conducted the inspection without identifying the disputed site first.
Anjuman Intejamiya Masjid Joint Secretary Syed Yasin reiterated that the Survey Commissioner was not acting fairly. Mr Yasin asked, “When it was not mentioned anywhere in the order [that the inspection team would enter the mosque], why insist on entering the mosque.” Seeking clarification, the plaintiff filed another application before the court specifying the areas of inspection along with the duration of the procedure.
Varanasi Court Instructions
The court on May 12 rejected the mosque committee’s demand to replace advocate commissioner Ajay Kumar Mishra, also giving its consent for videography inside the Gyanvapi mosque premises.
Here’s the court verdict:
The court asked the commission to complete its inspection and submit a report by May 17. He also appointed two Additional Advocates Commissioners to assist Mr. Mishra in videography inside the premises.
The judge ordered that the process of inspection would continue daily from 8 am to 12 noon. He also directed the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh and the Director-General of Police to oversee the process.
On the submission of the Masjid Committee that there is no need for videography inside the mosque as the Maa Shringar Gauri site is outside the western wall of the mosque, as claimed by the petitioner, the court observed that the report cannot clarify the exact location of the Shringar. Gauri will do The court said, ‘If someone creates obstruction, such as if there are locks somewhere, then the district administration will have full authority to open or break the locks for the action of the commission. The court said that the process of inspection shall not be stopped on any condition whether the parties cooperate or not.
The court directed the authorities to register an FIR against anyone obstructing the process of videography inside the premises.
After the SC refused to stay in the proceedings, the court-mandated survey in the Gyanvapi mosque complex continued.
The survey was conducted from 8 am to 12 noon amid tight security. Three advocate commissioners were appointed by the court, five advocates each from both sides, and an assistant besides a videography team reportedly took part in the survey.
The survey report is expected to be presented in the court on May 17 as per the court-ordered deadline.