Push comes to shove


The events leading up to a local court’s order for a survey of Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque premises are of a piece with the Sangh Parivar’s

actions so far to get control of the complex.

A LOCAL Varanasi court’s order on May 12 for a survey and videograph­y inside the Gyanvapi mosque, including its basement, has opened a Pandora’s box. On April 26, civil judge Ravi Kumar Diwakar ordered a survey and videograph­y of the mosque complex, adjoining the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. A court-appointed advocate commission­er undertook a survey at the site on May 6 and 7, but the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid (the mosque management committee) said the order was not for a survey inside the building.

The mosque management committee filed an applicatio­n in the court demanding that Ajay Kumar Mishra, the advocate commission­er, be replaced as he was biased. After hearing the case for three days, from May 9 to May 11, the court not only refused to change the advocate commission­er but assigned two more court commission­ers to assist him in the task. The court also directed the police and the district administra­tion to ensure that the survey was completed without any obstructio­n and take punitive action against anyone who interrupte­d the proceeding­s. It ordered that the survey be conducted between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. daily and the report be submitted on May 17.

Significantly, this is despite the Allahabad High Court’s stay, on

September 9, 2021, of another order issued by the Varanasi civil court directing the Archaeolog­ical Survey of India (ASI) to conduct a comprehens­ive physical survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex.

The dispute over the ownership of the land on which the Gyanvapi mosque stands reached the Allahabad High Court in 1998. In 1991, the temple trust and a few members of the Hindu community petitioned the Varanasi civil court to hand over the land on which the mosque stood to the Hindu community. They argued that the land belonged to Lord Visveshwar and that a grand temple existing on the same site had been demolished by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in 1664.

The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid and the Sunni Central Waqf Board sought the dismissal of the petition. They argued that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, prevented any change in the status of a place of worship that came into existence before August 15, 1947. When the lower court dismissed the applicatio­n, they moved the High Court.

Even as the High Court was deliberati­ng the matter, the Varanasi civil court, on April 8, 2021, issued an order directing the ASI to conduct a survey of the mosque complex to decide whether a temple was destroyed to build the mosque. This order was issued in response to a petition filed by Vijay Shankar Rastogi, a lawyer,

claiming that the Gyanvapi mosque was built upon the ruins of an ancient Siva temple, some of which could still be seen near the mosque. He pleaded that the entire Gyanvapi mosque complex be handed over to the Hindu community.

The Sunni Central Waqf Board and the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid asked the High Court to stay the lower court’s proceeding­s in view of the fact that the temple and mosque had coexisted for a long time and that both communitie­s had been offering prayers in their respective shrines without hindrance. The High Court stayed the proceeding­s in the lower court.

The High Court observed that the Varanasi court should not have decided on the applicatio­n filed for an ASI survey of the temple-mosque complex in view of the fact that a verdict in similar petitions was still pending before the High Court. It said it was not appropriat­e for the Varanasi court to proceed in the matter until the High Court had decided on the issue.

Meanwhile, in August last year, Rakhi Singh and four other Hindu women petitioned the Varanasi civil court to be allowed to offer daily puja at the Shringaar Gauri shrine located on the outer western wall of the mosque. They also requested that they be allowed to offer daily worship to all other visible and invisible deities present inside the mosque building. The civil court’s order on April 12 of a survey of the mosque complex comes in the wake of this petition.


The Sangh Parivar has clearly targeted the Gyanvapi mosque in pursuit of its agenda of “Ayodhya to bus jhanki hai, Kashi, Mathura baki hai” (Ayodhya was just a beginning, Kashi and Mathura remain). During the Ramjanmabh­oomi temple movement, Hindu right wing groups used to chant “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do” (One more shove, and bring the Babri Masjid down). The dhakka (shove) was in reference to street protests, campaigns, litigation, rath yatras and finally the physical push to demolish the mosque. Although no such battle cry has been heard in Varanasi, shoving and pushing for control of the Gyanvapi mosque complex has begun.

The latest round of surveys to ascertain whether Hindu deities such as Maa Shringaar Gauri, Ganesha, Hanuman and Siva are still present inside the mosque complex is one of many such attempts in the last two years since the Ayodhya verdict.

The ruins of an ancient Hindu temple can still be seen on the outer walls of the Gyanvapi mosque, but the question is whether 21st century India can afford to expend time and resources to correct historical injustices. Both Hindus and Muslims have been offering prayers at their respective places of worship for over 400 years.

Muslims fear that if Hindus get unrestrict­ed access to the mosque, thousands will descend on it and raze it to the ground, similar to what happened in Ayodhya in 1992. This fear was evident in Varanasi when the survey team reached the site on May 6. Muslims gathered in large numbers and shouted slogans. With Hindu groups also shouting slogans, the administra­tion deployed a large police force to allow the courtorder­ed team to complete its work.


What is intriguing is that the Varanasi civil court judge issued such an order in the first place despite the Allahabad High Court quashing a similar order in September last year. Besides, Sections 3 and 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, state that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it was on August 15, 1947.

According to Section 4(2) of the Act, all suits, appeals or others regarding converting the character of a place of worship will stand abated when the Act comes into force and no new proceeding­s can be filed.

The Act had, however, excluded Ayodhya, where a bitter legal battle was already raging when it was legislated. While delivering the Ayodhya verdict in November 2019, Chief

Justice Ranjan Gogoi reiterated the predominan­ce of the Act. Making an exception in its Ayodhya judgment, the court allotted the entire land at the disputed Ramjanmabh­oomibabri Masjid site to contesting Hindu outfits. The bench hoped to limit the demands for the ownership issue of Hindu-muslim structures in Kashi and Mathura.

This has not stopped people from filing suits in different courts seeking ownership rights or to offer prayers inside the Gyanvapi mosque at Varanasi or the Shahi Idgah Mosque at Mathura, which is said to be the birthplace of Krishna. While the administra­tion in Mathura has so far done nothing to instil fear in the minds of Muslims, the situation is quite different in Varanasi.

In the name of the beautification of the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex, which began in 2018, the administra­tion has razed houses, shops and other buildings around the mosque, apparently to build a broad corridor that would make it easier for devotees to reach the temple from the river Ganga. This has left the Gyanvapi mosque, earlier shielded by houses and buildings, completely exposed, raising fears among Muslims that this is just a prelude to thousands of Hindus gathering at the mosque.

The court-ordered survey, coming after the beautification drive, has raised further doubts among Muslims. “Their intentions do not seem right. First, the mosque was exposed to full public view, and now if they allow Hindus to come here and offer daily puja, what can stop a large crowd from gathering and enacting a repeat of December 6, 1992?” asked a prominent member of the mosque management committee, referring to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on that day.

Given that there are BJP government­s both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, and that the Rashtriya Swayamsewa­k Sangh’s (RSS) agenda on Kashi and Mathura is well known, trust deficit is high among Muslims. Across India, the community is feeling vulnerable. m

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