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Varanasi court allows ASI survey of Gyanvapi Mosque adjacent to Kashi Vishwanath Temple

A Varanasi Court has allowed an Archeological Survey of India (ASI) study of the Gyanvapi Mosque adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

The order was passed by Civil Judge (Senior Division) at Varanasi Civil Court, Ashutosh Tiwari.

The plea before the Court demanded the restoration of the land on which the Gyanvapi Mosque is located to Hindus on claims that Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had pulled down a portion of the 2000-year-old Kashi Vishwanath Temple to build the Gyanvyapi Mosque there in 1669. The suit was opposed by the Gyanvyapi Mosque Management Committee.

Justifying its decision to order an ASI survey, the Court held,

“A large number of persons including Indians and Non-Citizens, belonging to two religions are equally in knowing the truth of the cause of action of the plaintiffs as well as of the defence of the defendants…The circumstances in the case in hand are such that none of the parties are in a position to lead direct evidence to prove their assertions and counter assertions, as at presently hardly any person would be alive to come and testify before this court…

…This court is of the view that since the defendants have outrightly denied the factum of demolition of the temple of Lord Vishweshwara in obedience of farman of Badshah Aurangjeb at the disputed site and subsequent conversion of the same into a mosque, hence in these circumstances it is incumbent on the part of this court to find the truth.”

The Court also dismissed the contention of the defendants that the revenue records show that a Mosque is on the disputed site, and thus the same is not open for challenge, holding,

“…a revenue entry is not conclusive piece of evidence establishing the title of the person whose name has been mutated…A successful challenge can potentially compel the revenue authorities to bring necessary alteration in the revenue records…”

It went on to hold,

“Thus this court finds that survey by ASI alone can bring truth of the matter before this court. Irrespective of what surfaces, the survey by ASI may go on to help not only to the plaintiffs, but also to the defendants, if their version is indeed true.”

The Court has issued the following directions, among others:

  • Director-General, ASI is directed to get a comprehensive physical survey doneof the disputed site at Gyanvapi, Varanasi.
  • five-member Committee is to be constituted comprising eminent persons and experts well-versed with archaeology. Two members should preferably be from the minority community.
  • An expert is to be appointed as an observer for the committee. The Committee is to report on the survey work done to the observer.
  • The Committee’s prime purposeis to find out whether the religious structure standing at the disputed site is a superimposition, alteration or addition or if there is structural overlapping of any kind over any other religious structure. If there is any such structure, the Committee is to examine the age, size, monumental and architectural design or style of the religious structure standing at the disputed site and what materials were used to build the same. The Committee is to trace if any temple belonging to the Hindu community ever existed before the mosque was built or superimposed or added at the disputed site. If so, the Committee is to find out the age, size, monumental and architectural design or style etc. and what Hindu deity or deities the same was devoted to.
  • During the survey, artefacts (whether they support the case of the plaintiffs or the defendants) are to be properly preserved.
  • While carrying out the survey, the Committee is to ensure that Muslims are not prevented from offering namazat the disputed site. If the same is not practical due to the survey work, the Committee shall provide Muslims an alternative, suitable place to offer namaz at any other place within the precincts of the Mosque.
  • The Committee is expected to be aware of the sensitivity of the matter and ensure that both Hindus and Muslims are equally respected.
  • No party shall dictate that the Committee interpret this order or act in a particular manner.
  • No general public or media will be allowed access to witness the survey work. No media briefings by the committee are allowed on survey work.
  • Survey work to be carried out between 5-9 pm.
  • To ensure that the survey work is not tampered with, security would be deputed at the disputed site during survey work. The district administration is to ensure peace and tranquillity at the disputed site and nearby areas during survey work.
  • After the survey is complete, the Committee’s report is to be submitted in a sealed coverwithout undue delay.
  • All expenses relating to the survey are to be borne by the ASI.

The matter will be taken up next on May 31, 2021.

The suit has been moved by Vijay Shankar Rastogi in his capacity as the next friend of the Ancient Idol of Swambhu Lord Vishweshwar, along with four others. Two of the plaintiffs have died during the pendency of the suit.

“… in the middle of the aforesaid land of Gyanwapi, there exist since prior to Puranic period Swambhu Jyothirlinga of Lord Shiva, Popularly known as Lord Vishweshwar and a very old temple of Lord Vishweshwar had been in existence, much long before the advent of Muslim rule in India and the land appertaining to the said temple is part and partial of the said temple of Lord Vishweshwar.. the said temple was constructed by the King Vikramaditya about 2050 years ago and duly consecrated the idols of Lord Vishweshwar therein. It is also revealed that due to religious antipathy it was pulled down partly several times in Muslim rules in the country,” reads the plaint.

The plaintiffs go on to argue that in 1669, on the basis of “wrong information, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb had ordered the demolition of schools and temples, pursuant to which part of the Vishwanath/Vishweshwar temple was also demolished.

The construction of the Mosque, thereafter, was illegal, without any authority and against Hindu law, the plaintiffs have asserted. They add that the offering of prayers at this Mosque is not legal in Muslim law as well since “according to Muslim law it is not lawful to offer prayers on the land of another person without his consent and also the Muslims are not lawful to offer prayers over the land occupied by the temple of Lord Vishweshwar.”

In this backdrop, it was contended further,

“…the alleged Mosque is neither a Mosque nor it can be called a Mosque, it is the temple of Lord Vishweshwar and is still a temple of Lord Vishweshwar irrespective of its shape.

As far as the subsequent events concerning the disputed site, the plaintiffs claim:

  • A riot took place in 1809 at the Gyanvapi compound after which Muslims were thrown out by Hindus. The Hindus took actual possession over the entire site.
  • Compensation following the riots was granted to the Mosque during the British rule.
  • The disputed site was given to the Hindus in 1928.
  • Thereafter, there were communal riots in the area. The District Magistrate passed administrative orders several times in respect of the property in dispute which does not affect the civil right of the plaintiffs.
  • District Magistrates, one after the other, passed administrative orders allowing Muslims to perform namazwithin the disputed structure.
  • Muslims, protected under the said administrative orders, tried to perform namaz beyond the said structure, which was protested by the Hindu public.
  • The administration also stopped Muslims from doing so. As a result, a suit was filed on behalf of Muslims in the court of the Sub-Judge, Varanasi in 1936 (Din Mohammad & Others vs. State in Council & Others). The said suit was contested by the government. The suit was dismissed in1937. An appeal against the judgment of the sub-judge was upheld by the High Court.
  • Armed with the administrative orders passed by District Magistrates, Muslims have been performing their namaz within the Mosque, which does not affect the civil rights of the plaintiffs.
  • The ground floor cellar of the site is still in possession of the plaintiffs and the structure standing over it (the Mosque) is illegally being utilized by the Muslims in respect of which they have no right, title or interest of any kind whatsoever.
  • The cause of action for the present suit arose on October 13, 1991, when the defendants and other Muslims finally declined to restore the possession of “the structure alleged to be a Mosque“, part of the temple of Lord Vishweshwar and to remove their effects therefrom to permit the plaintiffs and other Hindus to rebuild the temple of Lord Vishweshwar.

In view of these contentions, the following prayers were made:

  • That the Court declare that the disputed site is the property of Lord Vishweshwar and that the devotees of Lord Vishweshwar i.e. the Hindus at large, have every right to use it as a place of worship, to renovate and reconstruct their temple.
  • That the Court declares that Muslims have no right to occupy the site and that their occupation of the same is illegal.
  • That a mandatory injunction be issued so that the defendants are ordered to remove its effects from the disputed site.
  • That the defendants be permanently restrained from interfering in peaceful possession of the plaintiffs over disputed property and structures.

The plaint filed through advocates Hari Shankar Jain and Pankaj Kumar Verma. On a related note, a Varanasi Court last month sought responses from the Central government, State of Uttar Pradesh and UP Muslim Personal Law Board on a suit filed on behalf of Goddess Maa Shringar Gauri, seeking the restoration of an ancient temple at the site of Gyanvapi Mosque.


Via Bar & Bench
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