Gyanvapi case: Petitioners rely on SC ruling on namaz, tell court 1991 Act not applicable

Relying on a 1994 ruling of the Supreme Court, which held that it is not mandatory for Muslims to offer prayers in a mosque, advocates for the petitioners from Hindu side on Wednesday told a Varanasi court that the Places of Worship Act, 1991, does not apply in the Gyanvapi mosque-Shringar Gauri complex case while arguing for the right to offer prayers in the mosque premises.

District Judge A K Vishvesh is hearing a plea filed by Rakhi Singh and four other women from the Hindu community. The petitioners have sought the court’s nod to worship Maa Shringar Gauri, a deity understood to be within the Gyanvapi mosque premises, every day.

In the 1994 ruling — Ismail Faruqi versus Union of India — the apex court held that a mosque is not an “essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam”, and that namaz can be offered anywhere.

Responding to the plea in Varanasi court, the Muslim petitioners had argued that the plea is not maintainable, as the Places of Worship Act, 1991, prohibits conversion of any place of worship and mandates maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947.

The Hindu side, however, argued that the Places of Worship Act will not apply in the present case.

“…it is relevant to mention that the principle of ‘first in existence’ or ‘prior in existence’ is the paramount consideration for determining the right of worship at a particular place where two communities are claiming right to worship,” the Hindu side argued.

While hearing the Gyanvapi issue in May, the Supreme Court had said that the court will have to consider various nuances of the Act, including ascertainment of the religious character of a place.

“But the ascertainment of a religious character of a place, as a processual instrument, may not necessarily fall foul of the provisions of Sections 3 and 4 (of the Act)… These are matters which we will not hazard an opinion in our order at all,” Justice D Y Chandrachud had said while hearing the Gyanvapi issue.

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“All the more reason why, on the basis of evidence… let’s allow” the proceedings, he had noted.

In the present case before the district judge, the Hindu side is trying to establish a case through evidence to ascertain the real religious character of Gyanvapi mosque.

“In 1585, Raja Todar Mal had reconstructed a magnificent temple of Lord Shiva at the very same place where the temple originally existed at Land No. 9130. In 1669, the then ruler, Aurangzeb, had issued a farman to demolish existing temples at Kashi and Mathura, which were carried out,” the plea stated.

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