A court today agreed to hear the case of five Hindu women who want to pray at a shrine inside the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, next to the famous Kashi Viswanath temple. Their petition will be heard on September 22.
It is a big step forward for the five women, who want permission for yearlong puja and rituals in a part of the mosque complex. They claim there are idols of Hindu gods and goddesses in the complex. Muslim petitioners, mainly mosque administrators, want the petition thrown out and say they are ready to fight till the Supreme Court.
Their challenge was rejected on all three counts they had cited. The most important of these is the 1991 law that freezes the status of a place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947. The petitioners don’t want ownership, just the right to worship, the court said. Earlier this year, a lower court ordered the filming of the centuries-old mosque based on the petition of the women.
The videography report, controversially leaked by the Hindu petitioners, claimed a “Shivling” or relic of Lord Shiva had been found in a pond within the mosque complex used for “Wazoo” or purification rituals before Muslim prayers. A court then sealed the pond and banned large namaz gatherings in the high-profile mosque. The gatherings should be limited to 20 people, said the court.
The filming inside the mosque was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Varanasi Gyanvapi mosque committee, which said the move violates the 1991 law (Places of Worship Act). The Muslim petitioners argued that “such petitions and sealing of mosques will lead to public mischief and communal disharmony, will affect mosques across the country”.
In May, the Supreme Court assigned the case to the city’s most senior judge, referring to the “complexity and sensitivity” of the dispute that it said requires experienced handling. The Gyanvapi mosque located in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi, is one of the several mosques that Hindu hardliners believe were built on the ruins of temples. It was one of the three temple-mosque rows, besides Ayodhya and Mathura, which the BJP raised in the 1980s and 90s, gaining national prominence..
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