“We weren’t surprised by this order at all. In fact, we were expecting it,” says SM Yaseen responding to an order by a Varanasi court directing the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to survey the complex where two religious structures stand: The Gyanvapi mosque and the Kashi Vishwanath temple. SM Yaseen is the general secretary of the Anjuman Intizamiya Masjid committee.
The order to conduct a survey stems from a plea filed in 2019 by local advocate VS Rastogi, who demanded that the land upon which the mosque was constructed be returned to Hindus.
“The Allahabad High Court had given a stay order, meaning a hearing could not be conducted in the case. But the lower court still conducted hearings in the case. The judge also shot down our request for the case to be presented before the Waqf tribunal,” says SM Yaseen referring to the decision of the Civil Judge, Fast Track Court.
“Between January 18 and March 12 arguments were on in the High Court in connection with the stay order case by all parties including the Sunni Central Board and the Anjuman Intazamia Masazid. The judgment was reserved and was expected After April 5, but there was a lockdown due to Covid,” he explains. “On April 6, we moved another application before the High Court requesting that the lower court be restrained from delivering any order in the case while the High Court judgement remained reserved and this application was to be heard on April 9. But the hearing could not take place, perhaps due to Covid. Meanwhile, the lower court went ahead and passed its order,” he says.
Misinformation being spread
He is also disturbed by the misinformation being spread about the matter. “The well inside the mosque complex is different from the ‘kup’ on the temple side. The mosque well is used to provide water for performing wazu (ritual cleaning before offering prayers). The Gyanvapi ‘kup’ is a separate well located near the Nandi statue,” explains SM Yaseen adding, “We do not use its water. I don’t even know if it has water. The mosque water does not go there, the ‘kup’ water does not come here, they are both separate.”
This map shows the temple-mosque complex including plot 9130 that according to SM Yaseen, is the mosque plot.
He now fears communal conflagration. “There will be tension, the law and order situation could deteriorate,” he says.
Multiple petitions admitted by courts
It is noteworthy that years ago the ASI had conducted a similar survey at the site of the Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid complex in Ayodhya.
It is also noteworthy that the chorus to “return the land to Hindus” grew louder in connection with the Gyanvapi complex after the Supreme Court passed its judgment in the Ayodhya case. Multiple petitions have been filed making demands ranging from restoration of the temple and worship activities to outright return of the land upon which the mosque stands.
“We had accepted the court’s judgement in the Ayodhya case hoping for peace in future. But now several new petitions have been filed over the last few weeks including one by Sudhir Singh,” says SM Yaseen.
Sudhir Singh is a politician from Uttar Pradesh who had famously proclaimed last year that he would have “liberated Gyanvapi had the lockdown not played spoilsport.” He had made the announcement at Assi Ghat on Mahashivratri in 2020 and was also arrested and sent to jail briefly for the same. He had stirred controversy earlier too when he announced a Dandavat Yatra from Sankatmochan temple to Gyanvyapi mosque, the procession was to pass through several Muslim neighbourhoods.
SM Yaseen asks, “What’s the point in filing all these petitions? When provisions of the Places of Worship Act are in effect, why would we give away the land?” He further asks, “If we can respect the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya judgment, then why can’t they accept the same court’s directions with respect to the Places of Worship Act?”
According to Section 3 of the Places of Worship Act, “No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof.”
He wonders aloud, “If they want to challenge the Places of Worship Act, should we also challenge the Babri judgement?” It is noteworthy that when it comes to the criminal case related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a Revision Application has been filed before the Allahabad High Court against the CBI special court’s decision to acquit all accused in the case. The appeal has been filed against the September 30, 2020 judgment passed by Special CBI court, Lucknow.
Meanwhile, the Gyanvapi mosque authorities are planning to move High Court against the Varanasi Court’s order for an ASI survey.