In the months prior to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, a violent mobilisation led by men who were to rise to constitutional posts (Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani), the Indian Parliament passed the Places of Worship Act, 1991. This law was meant to ensure that no place of worship of any religious dispensation was ever made subject to such an ignominious mobilization, again. On the radar of the supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal have been dozens of mosques and shrines the most prominent being the Gyan Vapi Mosque at Kashi (Varanasi) and the Shahi Idgah Mosque at Mathura. “Ayodhya sirf Jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura Baki Hai” (Ayodhya is but a glimse, Kashi, Mathura yet to be done) is the slogan that rang on Indian streets where the mob ruled in the early 1990s.
In November 1993, then again 1994-95 and 1997, petitioner Mohammed Aslam alias Bhure who was an active litigant in the Babri Masjid case petitioned the Supreme Court of India expressing concern and anxiety praying for express ideas to protect the Gyan Vapi Mosque and the Shahi Idgah one too.
Three separate benches of the Supreme Court of India made it explicitly clear that the Places of Worship must be protected and the law (PWA, 1991) strictly implemented.
Sabrangindia has accessed these orders and presents a timeline:
1994 Justices M.N. Venkatachaliah, Chief Justice, S Mohan and Dr AS Anand passed an Order in September of that year. (Mohamed Aslam Bhure had petitioned the Court in November 1993.)
Reiterating seven prayers listed by the petitioner in its Order, the Supreme Court makes specific observations on prayer (v) that asks for cases to be registered as per provisions of Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, against any person who violates the Act by causing damage or converting these places from their existing religion to the religion of other denominations.
The Observations of the Supreme Court are telling:
“So far as prayer (v) is concerned, it is the statutory obligation of the State to enforce the provisions of the Act. It does not need reiteration that the duty is a fortiori in matters of such serious public concern. In view of the plain obligations of the State to enforce the law, any direction on the hypothetical possibility of violation, amounts to no more than recanting the provisions of the statute itself.” (Para 4)
Ironically, at the time of recording of the 1994 Order as the judgement itself documents, the District Magistrates of both Mathura and Varanasi and the Home Secretary to the State Government of Uttar Pradesh were present in the Supreme Court.
Noting this the Supreme Court observes,
“Learned Attorney General (then Milon Banerjee) submitted that after the events of December 6, 1992, the Central and State Governments are keenly alive to the need for an appropriately heightened security environment respecting places of worship referred to, and that the Governments are straining every nerve and resource to ensure such safety. Learned Attorney General submitted that adequate security measures for safeguarding these places of worship have been enforced and in operation…..” (Para 6)
The matter does not end there. The judgement goes on to record:
“Shri AK Ganguly (then Solicitor General), upon instructions from the District Magistrates and the Home Secretary submit that the prayers sought for by the petitioner are, indeed, the subject matter of deep, anxious and committed concern of the Government and all precautions and safety measures have been evolved and are in operation with respect to these places of worship. (Para 7)
Given the fact that, as the three judge bench of the Supreme Court observes, both the State and Central Governments are keenly alive to the problem and have taken adequate steps and these measures are already in operation, no further specific directions are passed by the Court. (Para 8)
The entire SC Order may be read below.
1995 Justices BN Kirpal, Chief Justice, SC Sen and two others passed an Order in August of that year. (Mohamed Aslam alias Bhure had petitioned the Court in 1994.)
Again, it was petitioner Mohammed Aslam alias Bhure who petitioned the court invoking the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
The Order of the Supreme Court observes, that,
“..the Petitioner has filed this petition to ensure protection of the Gyanvapi mosque at Kashi – Banaras and Shahi Idgah Mosque Mosque at Mathura, both in the State of U.P. In this behalf he has also invoked ‘the provisions of the Places of Worship ( Special Provisions) Act, 1991, which, says he, prohibits conversion of any place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different section or religious denomination and enjoins maintenance of the status of all religious places as on 15.8.’47. The expression ‘place of worship’ inter alia includes a mosque. Lastly, he contends that Article 49 casts a duty on the state to protect monuments and places or objects of artistic of historical interest.”
“The reliefs claimed the essentially in the nature of directions to be issued to the respondents which include the state of UP, it’s chief Minister as well as the Union of India and their officers and servants to take adequate precautionary measures to protect the two mosques from the threats posed by the office bearers, workers and volunteers of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the BJP. Directions are also sought to ensure, that people in large numbers do not collect at the two sites. There is also a prayer for the appointment of Union of India as a Receiver of these places.
“While we appreciate the concern and anxiety of the petitioner we see no reason to believe that the Central Government and the State Governments are remiss about performing their statutory and constitutional obligations referred to by the petitioner. It is their duty to take all such measures as are necessary including the restrictions on the number of people visiting the aforesaid place or places of worship to protect the said two places from possible and apprehended assaults. The two Governments, we are sure, are mindful of their obligations and we have no reason to doubt that they will be found wanting in the performance of their constitutional and statutory duties of protecting those places: Good governance demands that of them and it is also essential for the maintenance of law and order, peace and tranquility.”
A copy of this Order of the Supreme Court reiterating its faith in the State and Central government’s commitment to the rule of law was sent to the Chief Secretary of the State of U.P. as well as to the Secretary of U.P. as well as to the secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, by the Registrar General of this Court by FAX message for information and necessary action.
The third significant order of the Supreme Court in the matter, in the immediate wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid was passed in 1997.
1997 Order of the Supreme Court, Justices AM Ahmadi, Chief Justice and Sujata V. Manohar. (Mohamed Aslam Bhure had petitioned the Court in November 1996.)
Again, at the outset, the Court observes that the matter relates to protection of the two places of worship, the Court notes the previous 1994 and 1995 Orders of the Supreme Court where specific directions to both to implement the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 and protect both the shrines (Mosques) were given, the Court proceeds to issue specific and clear directions.
The Supreme Court Order recounts that the Order passed by a Judge (of a Court subordinate to the Supreme Court!) “ensuring status quo” has caused some “difficulty” as by that the police seems to interpret the order to mean that barricades to protect the Mosques cannot be strengthened, enhanced or added to. The Court then, in 1997 proceeds to recount (the abovementioned pararaphs) from the Supreme Court Order of August 17, 1995 (B.N. Kirpal, SC Sen and two others) wherein the SC had made it abundantly clear that all necessary steps must be taken by the authorities “to protect the places of worship.”
Moreover, the Supreme Court specifically observes,
“We do not think that the Government and police authorities would have any difficulty in understanding our previous order and to understand the same since we had in no uncertain terms permitted them to do everything that is necessary to protect the places of worship. No order of any subordinate court can be construed to run counter to this Court’s Order.” (Para 2)
Clearly with the very nature of the state undergoing a drastic change, some would argue in a worryingly anti-constitutional direction, today in the third decade of the 21st century, close to 25 years later, the directives in these first orders of the Supreme Court related to the Gyan Vapi Mosque at Varanasi and Shahi Idgah Mosque at Mathura fall on deaf years. The hasty fashion and manner in which “prayers” were allowed inside the Gyan Vapi Mosque on the late evening of February 1, 2024, after an order of a subordinate question, begs these questions.
While these Orders in this sensitive case were not available on the Supreme Court, Sabrangindia has accessed them from law archives
1994 Justices M.N. Venkatachaliah, Chief Justice, S Mohan and Dr AS Anand passed an Order in September of that year may be read here
1995 Justices BN Kirpal, Chief Justice, SC Sen and two others passed an Order in August of that year may be read here
1997 Order of the Supreme Court, Justices AM Ahmadi, Chief Justice and Sujata V. Manohar may be read here