Varanasi court permits Hindu worship inside sealed basement of Gyanvapi mosque; masjid committee to appeal

Judge directs district administration to make arrangement for puja within seven days; AIMPLB says verdict is “unacceptable”, draws parallel to opening of Babri Masjid locks in 1986

January 31, 2024 04:11 pm | Updated 11:06 pm IST - New Delhi

The Gyanvapi Mosque as seen from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, in Varanasi. File

The Gyanvapi Mosque as seen from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, in Varanasi. File | Photo Credit: PTI

The Varanasi District Court on Wednesday allowed Hindu prayers to be offered inside the Vyas Ka Tekhana (sealed basement area) of the Gyanvapi mosque complex. The court directed the district administration to make arrangements to start the puja within seven days.  

The Anjuman Intezamia Committee of Gyanvapi Masjid will challenge the order in the Allahabad High Court, according to the committee’s counsel Merajuddin Siddiqui. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which is advising the committee, called the district court’s decision “totally unacceptable”, drawing parallels to the opening of the locks at the Babri Masjid in 1986. “It seems after establishment of Ram Mandir at the site of the Babri Masjid, many other mosques are being targeted, no matter how old they might be,” AIMPLB spokesman S.Q.R. Ilyas told The Hindu.

According to the petitioner, Hindu priests appointed by the Vyas family had performed daily rituals in the temple at this spot within the complex before 1993, till it was stopped on the orders of the State government. However, an Anjuman Intezamia committee member, who did not wish to be named, contested the claim. “There has never been any puja conducted there. It is a baseless contention,” he said.

Puja arrangements in seven days

The order permitting prayers to resume came on the last working day of district judge Ajay Krishna Vishwesha, who has been hearing multiple pleas related to worship rights in the Gyanvapi mosque. In this particular case, a September 2023 application filed by Shailendra Kumar Pathak, priest of the Acharya Ved Vyas Peeth temple, had sought worship of the visible and invisible deities in the basement of the mosque.

“District Magistrate, Varanasi is directed to get puja, raga-bhog performed of idols located in the southern cellar of Gyanvapi Mosque. This would be done through a priest nominated by Kashi Vishwanath Trust Board and plaintiff. Make proper arrangements of iron fencing etc. in 7 days for the same,” reads the court order, of which a copy is available with The Hindu. On January 24, this court had ordered the Varanasi district administration to take over the possession of the southern cellar within the Gyanvapi mosque complex.

The next date of hearing in the matter is February 8, when the defendants, including the Anjuman Intejamia Masajid Committee that manages the Gyanvapi mosque, can file their objections.

The AIMPLB said that the mosque committee was approaching the High Court with its appeal. “The case is likely to be listed tomorrow. The Muslim side was not given the chance to present its viewpoint by the district court. The judge gave the verdict on his last day in service,” Mr. Ilyas said.

VHP welcomes order

Reacting to the court’s order allowing Hindus to worship in the basement of the Gyanvapi mosque, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s international working president Alok Kumar said that the judgement was significant and has brought happiness for the Hindu community.

“In the basement of the Gyanvapi structure on the southern side is a Temple and in this Temple the regular Puja Archna of the Deities was going on till the year 1993. In 1993, the administration had, in an arbitrary action, barricaded the area, prohibited the Hindus from going to the Temple and had stopped the Puja Archna,” he said in a statement. Mr. Kumar also expressed his hope that this order would be a precursor to an expeditious decision on the main suit as well.

‘History is being repeated’

The AIMPLB, however, is drawing parallels between the decision to permit puja in the Gyanvapi mosque basement and the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid in 1986.

“They are moving in the same direction. There is reason to draw parallels and we fear history is being repeated. Here, in Gyanvapi, five Hindu women sought right to worship a deity here. Then claims were made about a shivling in the wuzukhana. Then the wuzukhana was sealed. Following that, the Archaeological Survey of India was asked to conduct a survey of the mosque. Soon its report was leaked to press after the court gave a copy to the two parties. Now, permission for puja has been granted. Nobody bothered to find out if this case could even be listed after the Places of Worship Act came into force in 1991,” said Mr. Ilyas.

Notice on ASI survey

In another important order pertaining to the Gyanvapi mosque, the Allahabad High Court has issued a notice to the mosque committee on a revision application filed to challenge the Varanasi district judge’s order refusing to direct the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a scientific survey of the wazukhana area of mosque.

The revision plea has been moved by Rakhi Singh, one of the Hindu plaintiffs in the main suit pertaining to the Gyanvapi mosque which demands the removal of the mosque itself and seeks rights for Hindus to worship Shringar Gauri there. Advocate Saurabh Tiwari, appearing for Ms. Singh, told The Hindu that the single judge Bench of Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal has issued a notice in the matter of the revision plea.

The ASI has already conducted a scientific survey of the Gyanvapi complex in 2023, in accordance with the Varanasi district judge’s order, to determine whether the mosque was constructed over the pre-existing structure of a Hindu temple. In its report, the ASI maintained that a large Hindu temple existed at the spot before the construction of the existing structure, that is, the Gyanvapi mosque.

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