Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 21 August 2023

SC stops Gyanvapi mosque survey

Source: By Khadija Khan: The Indian Express

The Supreme Court stayed the ongoing scientific survey of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, which a 30-member team of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had begun earlier. In doing so, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud put on hold the order of a district court in Varanasi that had directed the ASI to carry out a “scientific” survey of the mosque premises.

The top court also asked the mosque committee to move the Allahabad High Court against the district court’s order. The CJI noted Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s submission that no excavation work will be done on the mosque premises for at least a week.

What was the Varanasi court’s order?

The Varanasi court asked for a “scientific investigation/ survey/ excavation” of the mosque premises by the ASI.

District and Sessions Judge Ajaya Krishna Vishvesha asked the ASI to conduct a “ground penetrating radar survey just below the three domes of the building in question and conduct excavation, if required”.

The court directed the “Director of ASI…to conduct a detailed scientific investigation by using GPR Survey, Excavation, Dating method and other modern techniques of the present structure to find out…whether the same has been constructed over a pre-existing structure of a Hindu temple”.

The ASI was also directed to investigate the age and nature of the construction of the western wall of the building through scientific methods, and to carry out a GPR survey beneath the ground of all the cellars and an excavation, if required.

The court also told the ASI to “prepare a list of all the artefacts which are found in the building specifying their contents and carry out scientific investigation and undertake dating exercises to find out the age and nature of construction”.

The court told the ASI Director to ensure that no damage is done to the “structure standing on the disputed land” and that “it remains intact and unharmed”.

How did the court take up this matter?

The court was acting on a petition filed by four Hindu women petitioners seeking the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri on the outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque complex, located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi.

In its order, the court clarified that the survey will exclude the wuzu khana or the ablution area which was sealed last year on the orders of the Supreme Court after Hindu litigants claimed that they had identified a Shivling there.

However, the Muslim litigants contended that the object that had been found was a fountain. Following this, the court instructed that the survey proceedings be videographed, and a report is submitted to it before 4 August.

The Hindu litigants contend that the mosque was built on the site of the original Kashi Vishwanath temple. The Muslim litigants maintain that the mosque was built on Waqf premises, and that the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 barred changing the character of any place of worship as it existed on 15 August, 1947.

However, this was not the first time this issue reached the court. The Varanasi district court had agreed to hear the present plea for an ASI survey on 16 May this year, after an order by the Allahabad High Court.

What was the Allahabad High Court order?

On 16 May 2023, the Allahabad High Court ordered a “scientific survey”, including carbon dating, of the “Shivling” that was claimed to have been found at the Gyanvapi mosque complex during a videographic survey last year.

The petitioners, Laxmi Devi and three others, had gone to the High Court after the Varanasi District Judge rejected their application for a scientific survey and carbon dating of the “Shivling” on 14 October 2022.

In their plea before the High Court, the petitioners prayed “to make appropriate survey or undertake Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and/ or excavation associating the petitioners to find out the nature of construction beneath the Shivlingam discovered on 16.05.2022”.

Why was the videographic survey conducted?

On 8 April 2022, while hearing a petition filed by five local women, Civil Judge (Senior Division), Varanasi, Ravi Kumar Diwakar ordered a survey of the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal at the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque site by a court-appointed Commission. It directed the Commission to “prepare videography of the action” and submit its report.

After this, a survey of the premises was conducted over three days and concluded on 16 May 2022. The inspection was done in the presence of court-appointed Advocate Commissioners, lawyers from both sides, all concerned parties, and officials. That was the day on which the object claimed by the Hindu side to have been a Shivling, was found.

And how did the Supreme Court come into the picture?

The Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque, moved the top court, arguing that the proceedings were an attempt to change the religious character of the mosque. The Places of Worship Act, 1991 bars the conversion of the religious character of a place of worship from how it existed on 15 August 1947.

The Supreme Court, underlining the “complexity of the issues involved in the civil suit”, transferred the case to the District Judge. The SC subsequently said it would intervene only after the District Judge had decided on the preliminary aspects of the case.

After that, the Supreme Court in November 2022 extended its interim direction securing the area of the Gyanvapi complex where the “Shivling” was claimed to have been found without impeding or restricting the rights of Muslims to access and offer namaz there till further orders.

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