Varanasi court rejects Muslim side's petition: A look back at Gyanvapi mosque's disputed past since 1936

Five Hindu women had filed a case seeking permission to worship and perform rituals inside the premises of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque. The ownership of the premises has long been disputed — dating back to 1936

FP Explainers September 12, 2022 14:55:14 IST
Varanasi court rejects Muslim side's petition: A look back at Gyanvapi mosque's disputed past since 1936

The Gyanvapi mosque is located next to the famous Kashi Viswanath temple in Varanasi. PTI

A Varanasi district court has rejected the petition of the Muslim side in the Gyanvapi Masjid case and said that the suit filed by five Hindu women seeking worshipping rights in the Gyanvapi Mosque compound is maintainable.

The Gyanvapi Mosque located adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, has been at the centre of a legal battle after five women petitioners knocked on the doors of the court seeking permission to offer prayers at ‘a Shringar Gauri Sthal’ inside the complex, prompting a civil judge to order a videography inspection. The case reached the Supreme Court after the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee (AIMC) moved a plea challenging the survey.

Here’s a timeline of events that has led us to today’s development.

1936: The ownership of the Gyanvapi Mosque has always been up for debate. In 1936, three Muslim petitioners had demanded that the entire complex be declared a part of the mosque. It was during this hearing that the right to offer namaz in Gyanvapi was granted explicitly adding that such prayers can be offered anywhere else in the complex. In 1942, the Allahabad High Court upheld the decision of lower court and dismissed the petition.

1991: The issue first hit proper headlines in October 1991 when devotees in the name of the deity ‘Swayambhu Lord Vishweshwar’, claimed that the Gyanvapi mosque was built at the site of a temple that was demolished in 1669 on the orders of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. They, therefore, demanded that they should be allowed to “renovate and reconstruct their temple”.

They argued that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, didn’t apply to the mosque as it was allegedly built on the remnants of the old Visweshwar temple.

1998: The mosque’s management filed a counter-application, demanding the rejection of the suit on the ground that it is barred by provisions of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

2019: In December 2019, advocate Vijay Shankar Rastogi filed a plea on behalf of Swayambhu Jyotirlinga Bhagwan Vishweshwar in Varanasi district court. The petitioner demanded that an archaeological survey of the entire Gyanvapi mosque complex should be carried out.

He noted that in 1998, it was ordered to gather evidence from the entire Gyanvapi complex in order to determine the site’s religious character, but the Allahabad High Court postponed the lower court’s decision.

Incidentally, this petition was filed just a month after the Supreme Court’s decision on the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi controversy.

2020: The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, the mosque’s management, opposed the petition seeking ASI survey of the entire Gyanvapi complex. In the same year, the petitioner again approached the lower court with a petition, requesting to resume the hearing as the Allahabad High Court had not extended the stay further.

2021: In April 2021, the Varanasi court ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct the survey and submit its findings. The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board and the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee opposed Rastogi’s plea and the Varanasi court’s decision for a survey of the mosque.

The case was subsequently heard by the Allahabad High Court, which granted an interim stay on the instruction to the ASI to perform the survey after hearing all parties concerned.

18 April 2021: The current case is pertaining to a lawsuit filed by Rakhi Singh, Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas, and Rekha Pathak. They sought permission to worship and perform rituals at Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman, and Nandi on a daily basis, as well as preventing opponents from damaging the statues inside the disputed Gyanvapi premises.

26 April 2022: Hearing the case of the five women, the court of Civil Judge (Senior Division) of Varanasi, Ravi Kumar Diwakar, ordered videography of the Shringar Gauri temple in the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi complex and adjoining places.

6 May 2022: The survey begins but stops midway after a team of lawyers are denied entry inside the mosque.

12 May 2022: The Varanasi court said that the survey would continue and asked that it be completed and a report be submitted by 17 May. According to petitioners’ side, a Shivling had been found after water was drained out of a pond in the complex. The Varanasi district court subsequently ordered the district magistrate to seal the area where the Shivling had allegedly been found and prohibited the entry of any person to the area.

21 July: Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court stated that the court shall await the impending decision of the Varanasi District Judge on an application filed by Anjuman Intejamia Masjid, challenging the suit filed by five female petitioners seeking ‘darshan’ at Gyanvapi Mosque complex.

Justice Chandrachud said that if the court ruled in the favour of Anjuman Intejamia Masjid, the suit undertaken by the women would organically ‘fall’ and if they ruled in favour of the plaintiff, then the caretakers could pursue other judicial redressal.

24 August: District Judge A K Vishvesh reserved his order until 12 September in the matter after both sides concluded their arguments. Advocate Shamim Ahmad, who represented the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee in the case, said the Gyanvapi mosque is a Waqf property and the court does not have the right to hear the matter. It was argued that only the Waqf Board has the right to hear any matter pertaining to the mosque.

12 September: A single-judge bench of district Judge AK Vishvesh dismissed the challenge by the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee against the civil suits that challenged the title of the Gyanvapi mosque and the land surrounding it.

This means that the civil suits will be heard in detail and an examination of evidence will follow.

The next hearing has been scheduled for 22 September.

With inputs from agencies

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