In a landmark development that can possibly lead to communal tension, the Varanasi district court on September 12 accepted the maintainability of a writ petition by five women seeking the right to worship daily at the Shringar Gauri shrine inside the Gyanvapi mosque premises. Their petition will be heard from September 22 onwards.
Varanasi District judge Dr Ajay Krishna Vishvesh dismissed a plea from the Muslim side that said the petition was not maintainable in view of the Places of Worship Act, 1991. The judge held that the petition was not barred by that Act.
In spirit, it actually renders the Places of Worship Act infructuous and opens the way for many new mandir-masjid controversies.
It may be recalled that Rakhi Singh from Delhi and Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas, Laxmi Devi, and Rekha Pathak from Varanasi had filed a petition on August 18, 2021, demanding that they be allowed to perform daily pooja at the Shringar Gauri shrine, which is located at the north-west wall of the Gyanvapi mosque inside the mosque premises. The petitioners said that they had been allowed to perform daily pooja there until 1993, even after the Places of Worship Act came into being. They also pleaded that they be allowed to perform pooja of other deities present inside the mosque premises.
Following this petition, the Varanasi court ordered a videography and survey of the mosque premises in May this year, and appointed court commissioners for this purpose. Initially, the survey was conducted under the supervision of Ajay Mishra, who was later changed as videos from the survey were leaked to the media, which resulted in a clamour by the Hindu side that there was a sivalinga inside the basement of the mosque. The Muslim side, however, described it as a fountain.
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Following a huge uproar, the Varanasi court changed the court commissioner and appointed Vishal Singh and Ajay Pratap Singh as the new court commissioners. They completed the survey and submitted their report to the court in May. The Muslim side, meanwhile, filed an objection sekeing that the women’s petition be dismissed because it was a violation of the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
The Hindu side, has, however, kept up the crescendo, demanding that “Lord Shiva be released from captivity” and Hindus be allowed to perform pooja. It was where Muslims performed ablution before their prayers. This has, however, been stopped by the Supreme Court, which ordered the Varanasi court to complete its proceedings within a deadline. The Varanasi court had completed its hearing in the matter on August 24, 2022, and reserved its judgement.
Now the court commissioners’ report will be taken up for consideration to decide whether the petitioners should be allowed to perform daily pooja inside the mosque premises. This obviously will have other repercussions because similar petitions for videography and survey of the Idgah mosque in Mathura and several other mosques in the county are pending before various courts in the country.