A Varanasi district court on Monday dismissed an application filed by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee challenging the maintainability of the suit filed by five Hindu women seeking the right to worship Hindu deities within the Gyanvapi mosque premises all year round.
District judge A.K. Vishvesha ruled that neither the Places of Worship Act, 1991, nor the Waqf Act, 1995, nor the U.P. Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983, bar the suit and that the “plaintiffs will have right to prove their averments by cogent evidence”. The next hearing is slated for September 22.
The suit, filed by Rakhi Singh and four other women, claimed Hindus had been worshipping Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha and other visible and invisible deities daily at the said property till as recently as 1993, after which the Uttar Pradesh government restricted the worship to one day a year.
Based on this averment of the plaintiffs in their suit, the court rejected the arguments that the Places of Worship Act, 1991 barred the suit. It ruled that to decide the challenge to the maintainability of the suit under Order VII, Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, it only needed to consider the averments made by the plaintiffs and not the defence of those averments.
“Therefore, the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 does not operate as bar on the suit of the plaintiffs and the suit of plaintiffs is not barred by Section 9 of the Act,” the court ruled.
The 1991 Act seals the religious character of all places of worship as it stood on August 15, 1947, and mandates that any case seeking the conversion of such a place into that of another religion should be abated.
The court noted that the suit filed by the Hindu women “is limited and confined to the right of worship as a civil right and fundamental right as well as customary and religious right”. The court emphasised that the suit neither sought a declaration or injunction over the property in question, nor did it seek the conversion of the mosque into a temple.
“The determination of religious character is a matter of evidence which can be laid by either of the parties. The plaintiffs have laid foundation to establish that the religious character of the property in dispute was of Hindu temple and deities were being worshipped within the property in dispute,” the court said. “Therefore, the parties to the suit are required to prove before the court regarding the religious character of the property as was prevalent on August 15, 1947.”
Further, citing the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya judgment, the court asserted, “Even where the idol is destroyed or the presence of the idol is intermittent or entirely absent, the legal personality created by the endowment continues to subsist,” and that it does not result in the termination of the pious purpose and the subsequent endowment.