The Allahabad High Court on May 31 confirmed a Varanasi court order that had deemed maintainable a suit filed by Hindu parties seeking rights of worship inside the Gyanvapi Mosque [Committee of Management, Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, Varanasi v Rakhi Singh].
Justice JJ Munir held that the suit was not hit by Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act which seeks to protect the status of all religious structures as it stood on the date of independence by barring courts from entertaining cases which raise dispute over the character of such places of worship.
The High Court reasoned that if the Hindu parties in the case or devotees like them can worship in the premises of the Gyanvapi Mosque once a year, then doing so daily may not change the Mosque's character.
"This Court fails to see that if the plaintiffs or devotees like them can do pooja and darshan of the deities on a single day in the year with no threat to the mosque's character, how the making of it a daily or a weekly affair, would lead to a conversion or change of the mosque's character," the judgment stated.
This was after the Court noted that the Hindu parties were doing darshan and pooja of Goddess Maa Sringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and the other Deities in the suit property throughout the year up until the year 1990 and once a year after 1993.
Further, the judge said that merely asking to enforce a right to worship Maa Sringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and other deities located in the suit property was not an act that would change the character of the Gyanvapi Mosque into a temple.
"The mere asking to enforce a right to worship Maa Sringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman and the other Deities, located in the suit property at their specified place, is not an act that changes the character of the Gyanvapi Mosque into a temple. It is no more than the seeking of a full enforcement of a subsisting right that inheres in the plaintiffs and since long exercised by other devotees like them until a time much after 15th August, 1947," the Court said.
The Court made these observations while refusing to entertain a revision petition filed by Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid against a district court order which had held that the suit was maintainable.
The revisionists (Muslim parties) had argued that the plaint ought to be rejected without a trial of the suit because the suit was barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, which requires the religious character of a place of worship as on August 15, 1947 to continue as it is.
The Muslim parties claimed that the structure was a mosque as on August 15 and should continue as such.
The Hindu parties, however, claimed that given the existence of the idols since time immemorial in the precincts of the suit property, the provisions of the Act would not bar the suit.
It was also argued that if a person forcibly and without authority of law offers namaz within that property or at a particular place, it cannot be called a mosque.
Pertinently, it was argued that they have been offering pooja and doing darshan at the premises regularly up until 1990 and once a year after 1993.
The Court, on considering these arguments, held that the suit is confined to the enforcement of the plaintiffs' right to worship according to established tradition.
It was further recorded that this right was exercised by the devotees all through the year up to the year 1990 without hitch. Thereafter, it ran a troubled course between the years 1990 and 1993, after which it was restricted to a single day on the fourth day of the Vasantik Navratra in Chaitra.
Keeping this in view, Justice Munir found that what the plaintiffs simply sought to enforce a subsisting right of worship which they had been exercising after August 15, 1947.
"It is not that the plaintiffs, in any manner, wish to bring about any change to the suit property or alter its character, in whatever manner existing."
With this, the judge refused to interfere with the Varanasi court's order.
"The learned District Judge has, more or less for the same reasons, held that the suit is not barred by the Act of 1991 and this Court, for all that has been said, does not find any ground to interfere with that conclusion."
Senior Advocate Syed Ahmed Faizan and Advocate Zaheer Asghar appeared for the Muslim parties.
The Hindu parties were represented by Advocates Prabhash Pandey, Arya Suman Pandey, Saurabh Tiwari, Vishnu Shankar Jain and Vineet Sankalp.