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Gyanvapi case: SC says Places of Worship Act does not bar determining the religious character of a place, refuses to overturn orders

The Supreme Court bench said that given the complexities of the Gyanvapi case and the sensitives involved, the case should be heard by a senior and experienced judge and transferred the case to Varanasi District Court

The Supreme Court of India today refused to struck down the Varanasi court’s orders to do survey of the disputed structure of Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and the subsequent orders to seal parts of the structure after Hindu symbols including a Shivling was discovered in the survey. The court said that its order in the case will continue, which included sealing of the Wazukhana in the premises, which reportedly contains the Shivling. The status quo is to be maintained till the case is heard by the local courts.

The court also transferred the Gyanvapi dispute case to Varanasi district court from the civil court in Varanasi. A three-judge bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and PS Narasimha said that given the complexities of the case and the sensitives involved, the case should be heard by a senior and experienced judge.

Justice Chandrachud said that while the bench was not casting aspirations on the judicial officials in Varanasi hearing the case, the case needs to be heard by someone senior and the Varanasi District Judge has experience of 20-25 years and they know how to handle such cases.

The Supreme Court bench ordered the district court to hear the petition of the Muslim side against the court judgement on priority, while saying the interim order of the Supreme Court will continue till the plea of the Muslim side is decided and for 8 weeks after that. The court also ordered the District Magistrate to make arrangements for Wazu, or ritual washing before Namaz, for the Muslim devotees visiting the disputed site.

During the hearing, senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi who was representing the masjid committee, said that the matter has to be nipped in bud, and all orders issued by the Varanasi court, like appointing commissioner for survey of the structure to its sealing the site are illegal and they should be declared as void. “My submission is right from the date the Commission was appointed till date, all these orders shall be declared as void and null,” he said.

However, the Supreme Court said that it can’t decide on the maintainability of the suit of the Hindus because the Masjid Committee has already filed a petition against the suit in a Varanasi court.

Ahmadi pressed hard to get the Varanasi court order overturned, but the apex court refused to accept his arguments. The Masjid Committee lawyer even issued a veiled threat of violence by talking about ‘ramifications’ across the country.

The lawyer claimed that a status quo of over 500 years have been violated, and it is disturbing communal harmony and will cause public mischief. He argued that the mosque has been in existence for 500 years, and the court orders violate the places of worship act.

However, the apex court rejected his arguments, and defended the Varanasi court order for survey of the structure. In a significant observation, justice Chandrachud said that under the Places of Worship Act, 1991, there is no bar on ascertainment of religious character of a place. The bench also said that there are various nuances of the Act, which will fall for consideration, rejecting Ahmadi’s argument that the act puts a blanket ban on changing the character of religious places.

The judge noted that the ascertainment of religious character of a place as a processual instrument may not fall foul of Section 3 or 4 of the Act. “These are matters where we will not hazard an opinon in our order. We are in a dialogue,” he added.

Justice Chandrachud said that hybrid religious structures are not unknown in India, where symbols of different religions are found in the same place. He said just because some place has a cross, it does not become Christian place automatically.

Advocate Ahmadi also claimed that the Shivling found by the survey team is actually a fountain, and asked that the taps present in the area should be made available for Wazu. But the bench refuses saying they don’t have photographs of the area, so they can’t pass judgements on this. The court instructed the District Magistrate to make arrangements for Wazu instead. It is notable that even before the Supreme Court order, the magistrate had already arranged two drums of 1000 litres of water and 50 mugs for today’s Jumma Namaz.

Today’s order by the Supreme Court means that the place inside the structure where the Shivling has been discovered will remain sealed, and Muslims won’t be able to use the pond for Wazu. It is notable that while Varanasi court had ordered to seal the entire mosque, the Supreme Court had changed that to seal only the part where Shivling was found, and had allowed Namaz to go on inside the structure. However, today the Masjid Committee requested the people to not come to the mosque in large numbers for Friday prayers, because the Wazukhana and the toilets have been sealed as per court orders.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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