In a major development in the decades-old Gyanvapi mosque dispute, the Allahabad High Court on Tuesday dismissed a batch of petitions filed by the mosque’s management committee, Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee. The petitions had challenged a lower court order that allowed a comprehensive survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex adjacent to the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.
The high court verdict paves the way for the lower court to proceed with the suit filed by Hindu petitioners seeking restoration of an ancient temple on the site where the mosque currently stands.
Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal, who delivered the judgment, observed that the 1991 Places of Worship Act does not prohibit the civil suit that was filed as early as 1991. The Act aims to maintain the religious status quo of places of worship as existed on August 15, 1947. However, Justice Agarwal noted that no place of worship can have a “dual religious character.”
In effect, the high court has rejected the key argument made by the mosque committee and other Muslim bodies that thesuit is legally untenable. The HC directed the Varanasi trial court hearing the matters to decide the suit within six months.
The judgment marks an important milestone in the decades-old legal battle between Hindu and Muslim petitioners over the ownership and history of the controversial site. The dispute came under renewed spotlight recently after a lower court ordered a videographic survey of the mosque complex. The survey found relics of a Hindu temple inside, further emboldening the Hindu side’s restoration plea.
However, the Muslim stakeholders have maintained that the Gyanvapi mosque was constructed legally during the reign of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb after demolishing a portion of the historic Vishweshwar (now Vishwanath) temple in 1664. The Places of Worship Act was specifically passed to uphold his status quo. Tuesday’s HC verdict complicates their legal fight.
The HC allowing the suit to proceed also opens up the possibility of an Archaeological Survey of India survey of the mosque complex if the lower court feels there is merit in the demand. Expect both sides to continue their legal battle to assert their claims. For now, the Hindu side has won an early round. But the final outcome still hangs in balance.