Much before judgment was pronounced in Gyanvapi case, Hindu parties started celebration

By Abdul Bari Masoud

Banaras ke District Court ne Gyanvapi mosque premises ke bare main abhi Mahfooz faisla bhee nahi sunaya tha ki is se buhat pahle hi Hindu fareeq and mahanto ne jashan manana aur mithayian taqseem karna shuroo kar diya tha. Is amal se kiya smajha jai, aur is se kis baat ka ishara milta”?

(Much before the Varanasi District Court pronounced its reserved judgment on the Gyanvapi Masjid case the Hindu parties including priests started celebration and distributing sweets. What can be inferred from this behaviour and what does it signify?)

This shocking revelation made by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee (AIMC) secretary S M Yasin provides clear indications as to which way the wind is blowing.

Another witness, a Delhi-based journalist, who was present at the District court in Varanasi, requesting anonymity, corroborated this claim.

According to him, “A couple of television news channels started celebrations four hours before the court agreed to hear the petition. This only shows how things are moving in the country.”

Visuals coming from the court also show that the Hindus parties, along with a host of priests, had begun celebrations much before the Varanasi district court pronounced its verdict in the Gyanvapi case on September 12. Union Minister Giriraj Singh exulted over the order, saying in Delhi: “Our religious places were destroyed in the past. The court is doing justice to us.”

Despite this fact, SM Yasin, who represents the case, did not directly cast any aspersion on the judiciary but left it to the people to derive the meaning of the “jubilation before the judgment”.

On September 12, the Varanasi district court dismissed the application filed by the AIMC, challenging the maintainability of the suit filed by five Hindu women – allegedly owing allegiance to Hindutva groups – seeking the right to prayer for Hindus at the Gyanvapi mosque complex. District Judge A.K. Vishvesha had last month reserved the order till September 12 in the communally sensitive matter.

Speaking to Radiance, Yasin said the manner in which Hindu parties celebrated much before the verdict was delivered raised questions because the court disregarded all the three cogent evidence presented by the attorney for the AIMC.

The three important strong evidence and historical record presented by the AIMC counsel are: the Allahabad HC order from 1942 which affirmed Hanafi Sunni ownership over Gyanvapi mosque and adjacent area, the Places of Worship Act 1991 and the registry of waqf property in the revenue record, but the court shot down the arguments.

In its 26-page order, Judge Vishvesha said the Hindu women’s suit was not barred by the 1991 law “and the application 35C filed by the defendant No. 4 (Intezamia) is liable to be dismissed”.

Yasin forewarned that the ruling will unleash a Pandora’s Box in the state, which is already in ruins as a result of the assault by communal forces. He also voiced his disappointment that not a single lawyer from the majority community was willing to take up the Masjid Committee issue.

When being asked whether the committee tried to approach saner and secular persons from the Hindu community regarding the masjid matter, Yasin said that nobody stepped forward. He said that lawyers were concerned as they might face retribution from the Hindutva goons.

He added that the plea itself was ill-intended and motivated by communal elements with sinister motives and warned that the judgment will embolden ‘fascist agenda’ to target minority places of worship in Uttar Pradesh. He said the Masjid Committee is fighting as many as 13 cases in lower and high courts.

A prominent jurist remarked that the Hindutva litigants’ case was an obvious sleight of hand insofar as the 1991 Places of Worship Act is concerned as they sought worship rights instead of altering the status quo.

One shouldn’t be very shocked by their suggestion that the mosque be covered under a 1983 UP statute known as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act. But any legislation that conflicts with Section 7 of the Places of Worship Act 1991 is superseded.

It is worth noting that in Din Mohammed and Ors. Vs. Secretary of State case, the Allahabad High Court, in its judgment pronounced in 1942, reaffirmed the status of Gyanvapi Masjid as a mosque.

Some passages of this verdict are noteworthy:

“The waqf land status of the area beneath the mosque and its plinth was certified by the learned Civil Judge. Additionally, he discovered that a few homes above and close to the mosque’s northern gate had been in the mutwallis’ ownership for more than 12 years and might qualify as waqf. Further evidence, in his judgment, supported the Musalmans’ custom of holding an urs, or memorial service, once a year next to two graves to the west of the mosque and of passing across the area of open land where ruins were located to verify the mosque’s proof (whatever that may mean).”

The judge also granted the plaintiffs a declaration that they could use the waqf property for their religious ceremonies, that they could use the land near the graves to the west to celebrate the urs once a year, and that they could use the land covered in ruins as a passage, but he also stated that they had no right to offer regular, funeral, or Alvida prayers on any of the areas of the plaint map that were highlighted in red.

But, the learned judge of the Varanasi district court completely disregarded this unequivocal judgment made by the Allahabad High Court in 1942, which naturally provoked discontent among people who uphold the rule of law.

Opposition political parties and the community leaders, all see political motives behind this move and the diversionary tactics of the ruling party and its cohorts.

Although main opposition Congress maintained a safe distance from the whole controversy and has not reacted since the court order came but the party called it a “political” move and accused the BJP of using it as a “diversionary” attempt to put the problems of inflation, unemployment, and the depreciating rupee off the front burner.

When asked, Congress leaders declined to comment and claimed that our priorities were different from those of the BJP. “The goal of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is to eliminate the animosity fostered by the BJP-RSS and to close the gap between the various faiths,” they said.

Former Home Minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram had said that the status quo at all places of worship should be maintained else it would lead to a conflict.

While the CPI (M) described the District Court order as “a clear violation” of the aim behind the Places of Worship Act 1991.

CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said wrong interpretations of the law by sections of the judiciary will lead to serious consequences of the kind that the law was meant to prevent.

“It is no secret that the ruling party is hell bent on a distorted interpretation of history to target minority communities. The claim that present day mosques were built on sites where temples were destroyed has been a longstanding method to whip up religious sentiments and to use this for a communal agenda.”

The community leaders also reacted on the order with grave apprehensions.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) General Secretary Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rehmani said the preliminary decision of the district judge court was “disappointing and saddening”. He urged the government to implement the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, with full force. In the midst of the Babri Masjid controversy in 1991, Parliament had approved that the status quo at all religious places, except the Babri Masjid, would be maintained as in 1947, and no dispute against it would be valid, he added.

Then in the Babri Masjid case, the Supreme Court upheld the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, and declared it mandatory, he pointed out. “But in spite of this, those who want to serve hatred and do not care about the unity of this country, raised the issue of Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi and it is a pity that the district judge court ignored the 1991 law and allowed the petition,” Rahmani said.

MP Asaduddin Owaisi said the verdict would open the door to never-ending litigation and raises the possibility of a Babri Masjid-style situation, which would send the country back to the 1980s and 1990s.

“How can such an order be passed when the Supreme Court clearly said in the Babri Masjid judgment that the 1991 Act will be part of the basic structure of the Constitution?” Owaisi asked.

“I had opposed the Supreme Court judgment in the Babri Masjid case. I called it victory of faith over facts and voiced apprehension that it will open a can of worms as this will lead to new problems in Gyanvapi, Mathura Eidgah, Tele Wali Masjid Lucknow and Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. Unfortunately, I have been proved right,” he added.

Meanwhile, a source in the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board regretted that community organisations come forward when the issue snowballs into a major controversy. He told Radiance that the Board is fighting as many as 24 cases in different courts of the state.

Contradicting the UP Waqf Board’s allegations, Dr. SQR Ilyas, member of Muslim Personal Law Board, said the claim that the Board and other Muslim organisations become active in the issue only when it makes the news is untrue.

“Everybody is aware that the Board was involved in the Babri Masjid dispute when it was before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and Senior Advocate Siddhartha Shankar Ray was hired to present his arguments. Even the entire financial burden of the litigation fell on the Board. And when the case was transferred to the Supreme Court, the Board was active from the start, helping with document translations and overseeing the entire hearing,” Dr Ilyas told Radiance.

On the Hindutva fanatics’ celebrations before the District Court’s reserved decision in the Gyanvapi maintainability case, he said this raises questions about their foreknowledge of the outcome. It unquestionably calls the independence of the Indian judicial system into question, he added.

Right now there are 13 cases related to Gyanvapi mosque, 8 related to Shahi Eidgah, Mathura, two related to Tele Wali mosque in Lucknow and the latest one related to an 800-year-old Azimusshan Jama Masjid in Badaun.

In the Gyanvapi case, the district court slated the next hearing on September 22. Meanwhile, Yasin said they will approach the Allahabad High Court to challenge the District Court judgment as they are waiting for the final order.

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