Gyanvapi case: SC retains status quo; Hindu worship to continue in cellar while Muslims offer namaaz in mosque and courtyard

The court ordered that the status quo would not be disturbed by either contesting parties

April 01, 2024 03:33 pm | Updated 07:26 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of the Gyanvapi Mosque next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex at Varanasi. FIle

A view of the Gyanvapi Mosque next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex at Varanasi. FIle | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

The Supreme Court on Monday managed a balancing act, allowing a chosen Hindu priest to continue to offer worship inside the cellar or tehkhana in the Gyanvapi premises while Muslims used the mosque and the surrounding courtyard for performing namaaz.

A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud found it “appropriate” to order status quo in order to “enable both communities to offer religious worship”.

“This way namaaz is offered on the premises of the mosque. The tehkhana is safeguarded. The arrangement would be maintained between now and the trial,” Chief Justice Chandrachud remarked orally.

The court ordered that the status quo would not be disturbed by either contesting parties.

The Hindu plaintiffs, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan, claim that the entire area of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi belonged to a temple of Swayambhu Lord Adi Vishweshwar since Satyug. They said the temple, which once stood on the Gyanvapi plot, was brought down by the “Farman of Emperor Aurangazeb in the year 1669”.

Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, for mosque’s management, Anjuman Intazamia Masjid, claimed the suit filed in a Varanasi court by the Hindus was only a ruse to encroach into the mosque land.

Also read: A sense of disquiet in Varanasi 

The mosque managers have been fighting a prolonged legal battle after the suit by the Hindus, who started out seeking a judicial declaration of their right to worship inside the mosque premises, followed by the “discovery” of a “shivling”. Though the Muslim side claimed the structure was a fountain. The courts had allowed a carbon dating and “scientific survey” of the structure.

The latest developments have been back-to-back orders by the Varanasi court allowing Hindu religious rituals in a cellar of the mosque accessed through the southern side of the premises.

On January 17, the Varanasi court had appointed the District Magistrate as a Receiver of the tehkhana. Again, on January 31, the lower court had allowed the rituals to be conducted by a priest nominated by the Hindu plaintiffs in the suit and the Board of Trustees of the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

The mosque management has challenged these two orders.

“This is what the Americans call ‘salami tactics’. They are taking the mosque away from us bit by bit. They are encroaching bit by bit… Communities have lived peacefully. Why this insistence on having this now?” Mr. Ahmadi submitted.

The Bench however found that access to the cellar was from the southern side while the Muslims could access the mosque for namaaz from the northern side.

“At this stage namaaz is being offered by the Muslims unhindered after the January 17 and January 31 orders. The offering of pooja by the Hindu priest is confined to the area of the cellar… It would be appropriate to maintain the status quo so as to enable both communities to offer religious worship,” the court explained.

The court underscored that the religious worship by the Hindus should strictly adhere to directions contained in the January 31, 2024 order and be subject to the safe custody of the Receiver as specified in the January 17, 2024 order.

The court listed the case for final disposal in the third week of July on a Tuesday.

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