By Tuba Ehtesham | Muslim Mirror
New Delhi: “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do” (Give one more push, bring Babri Masjid down). The frightening chant was reverberating in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 when the 16th century mosque was being demolished. The same slogan echoed again 30 years later. This time in Varanasi with a minor change — “Ek dhakka aur do, Gyanvapi tod do”.
Even after the Anjuman Islamia Masajid (AIM), the managing committee of the Gyanvapi mosque, reportedly brought the controversial chant that was shouted at Gowdowlia Chowk in April this year, the district administration allegedly chose not to take any action against the miscreants.
It could have resulted into a law-and-order problem had the two sides not maintained a restraint.
Entangled into a legal battle, the Gyanvapi mosque seems to be following a “copy-paste pattern” in the lines of the Babri Masjid-Ranmbhoomi case.
Five women — Rakhi Singh, Manju Vyas, Sita Sahu, Lakshmi Devi and Rekha Pathak — in August 2021 filed a petition in a Varanasi court, seeking ‘darshan’ (seeing) and ‘poojan’ (worship) rights at Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal in Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi complex all through the year.
While Vyas, Sahu, Devi and Pathak belong to Varanasi, Singh is a resident of Delhi. They also sought permission to worship “visible and invisible deities” inside the Gyanvapi precinct the Shringar Gauri Sthal was only a chabutra (platform).
The demand that the petitioners be allowed to offer worship at the western wall outside the railing barricading the Gyanvapi mosque is apparently inspired by the Ram Chabutra in the erstwhile Babri mosque complex that had later emerged as the focal point of the case.
They said Mughal emperor Aurangzeb demolished the Vishweshwara temple in 1669 to build the mosque.
Like Ayodhya case, plaintiffs in the Gyanvapi case as well assert that Hindus had worshipped their gods in the mosque’s tahkhana (basement) till 1993.
The AIM challenged the maintainability of the petition under Order 7, Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, arguing that the petition is barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, the Waqf Act 1995 and the UP Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983.
However, District Judge A K Vishveshva dismissed the mosque managing committee’s objection, stating that the plaintiffs are merely seeking a right to worship as a civil right; and therefore, their petition is not barred the cited legislations.
“The plaintiffs are only demanding the right to worship Maa Sringar Gauri and other visible and invisible deities which were being worshipped incessantly till 1993 and after 1993 till now once in a year under the regulation of State of Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 does not operate as the bar on the suit of plaintiffs,” the court said.
Legislated by Parliament in the backdrop of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, the Act freezes the status of religious places as they existed on August 15, 1947. The Supreme Court too in its 2019 Ayodhya verdict, upheld the merits of the 1991 Act and stated it “imposes a bar on fresh suits or legal proceedings”.
But the lawyers representing the five petitioners argue that the principles of non-retrogression does not apply in the Gyanvapi case. Their argument is the Places of Worship Act did not ascertain the religious character of Gyanvapi. Everyone knows, according to them, that it was a temple; and that temples belong to the deity worshipped there. “Even if its idol is broken, the proprietorship of the temple does not end,” they said, adding that the Ayodhya case was fought on the ground.
They are sure that a grand temple would be build, replacing the Gyanvapi mosque, in a year or two as their case being heard with a satisfactory pace.
The petitioners predict that the apex court will rule in their favour and that the “so-called mosque” will fall.
And they have a reason to believe so.
Even to the surprise of the plaintiffs, who by their own admission were not expecting the court to act so quickly, a Varanasi civil court in May 2022 ordered “survey” of the mosque and its premise by advocate commissioners who found a black cylindrical structure in the mosque premise. While the petitioners call it a “jyotirlinga”, the AIM’s lawyers claim that it’s a defunct fountain.
Upholding the September 2022 verdict passed by the Varanasi district court, the Allahabad High Court on May 31 this year dismissed the AIM’s revision plea filed before it.
The AIM is now challenging the order in the top court by filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP).
Setting aside a lower court order, a single judge bench of the Allahabad High Court on May 12 went a step ahead and ordered that a “scientific survey”, which will include carbon dating, of the “Shivling” be conducted.
However, the Supreme Court deferred the scientific survey until the next hearing — which will take place on July 6. Stating that the carbon dating might damage the stone structure, the bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and justices KV Vishwanathan and PS Narasimha issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and the Centre against the High Court’s order.
There are others who contest the narrative that the structure found in the mosque premise is a “Shivling”.
“As per the court commissioners report, the structure — which is being called as Shivling — has a 63-cm-long hole. Shivlings don’t have holes.” said Rajendra Tiwari, a priest whose family managed the Kashi Vishwanath temple till 1983.
He also failed to find any logic behind the HC’s order to conduct a “scientific survey”. “With all due respect for the court order, I don’t understand what carbon dating will achieve. It will only reveal how old the stone is, but will not determine if the structure is a Shivling,” he added.
Noted geographer Rana PB Singh, who retired as a professor of Cultural Geography & Heritage Studies at Banaras Hindu University, too echoed the same.
“How will the carbon dating ascertain that the structure is a Shivling? It will just tell you the age of the stone,” he said, further adding that there is no technology as of now to conclude with certainty that structure is a linga.
Based on historical evidence, he challenges the plaintiffs’ claim that the Nandi (Shiva’s bull) in the Kashi Vishwanath complex predates the Gyanvapi masjid.
“Forty years after the Kashi Vishwanath temple was constructed (in 1781) by Maratha queen Ahalyabai Holkar, then King of Nepal had donated Nandi in 1824. It’s a propaganda that Nandi has been there since the time of Aurangzeb,” he asserted.
At the same time, he said it’s also a historical fact that the Gyanvapi mosque was built on the ruins of the 16th century Vishweshwara temple.
“It’s true that the temple once stood where the mosque today stands. You will still find a wall of the temple with Hindu motifs,” he said.
He also contested the argument that Gyanvapi is the original site of Kashi Vishwanath temple. “Turkic general Qutb-ud-din Aibak, who was caption in Muhammad Ghori’s army, demolished a pre-existing Vishweshwara temple, and Raziyyat-ud-din (Razia) built a mosque at that site. It is called Razia’s Mosque, which still stands. It belies the claim that the temple, which was allegedly brought down by Aurangzeb the Vishweshwara temple of Kashi,” he added.
Amid the legal hustle bustle and claims and counter claims, the famous slogan — “Ayodhya toh sirf jhanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaqi hai” (Ayodhya is just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are yet to come) — raised by Kar Sevaks (volunteers) while demolishing the Babri mosque is becoming more meaningful in Varanasi.