What is the Places of Worship Law, why is it relevant in the Gyanvapi Mosque case?

The ongoing investigation into the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh has led to a legal row in the country, with some questioning the constitutional validity of the decision. The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard the claim on Tuesday, against the videography and apparent searches carried out inside the premises of the mosque, against the Places of Worship Act 1991 passed by the Indian Parliament.

The provisions of the law have come to light after a civil court in Varanasi ordered a video survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque complex located near Kashi in response to a petition from some Hindu groups who claim the mosque was built by Aurangazeb after the demolition of Hindu temples. In a court-mandated video investigation on Monday, the lawyer representing the Hindu side claimed the Shivling was found near the ‘wazookhana’ – a small reservoir used by Muslim worshipers to perform ritual ablutions before offering the name.

The allegations were disputed by members of the Anjuman Intezamiya Masjid committee who raised the issue in court and claimed that the investigation contravened the law on places of worship. While the authorities who undertook the investigation have yet to file an official report in the findings of the investigation, many, including members of the mosque’s management committee, members of the Muslim intelligentsia, political parties and civil society, opposed any proposed attempt to alter the religious character of the Gyanvapi Mosque. .

What is the Places of Worship Act?

The Places of Worship Act was passed by Parliament in 1991 and aims to maintain the status quo between religions. It was introduced at a time when veteran BJP leader LK Advani’s Rath Yatra and Ram Janmabhoomi movement was gaining momentum and leading to incidents of violence in Uttar Pradesh. The law is the result of a bill passed by Shankarrao Bhavrao Chavan, former interior minister of the PV Narasimha Rao union.

The bill came in the context of the shooting of kar sevaks in Uttar Pradesh and the arrest of LK Advani in Bihar. According to the bill, places of worship cannot. convert to other religions and denominations

What does the law on the conversion of the religious character of places of worship say?

Section 3 of the Places of Worship Act explicitly prohibits the conversion, in whole or in part, of a place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different religious denomination. The section also prohibits conversions even within different sects of the same religious denomination.

According to Section 4(1) of the Act, the religious character of a place of worship “shall continue to be the same as it existed” on August 15, 1947. According to Section 4(2), any legal proceeding or pending lawsuit regarding the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship that was around on August 15, 1947, in any court, shall be mitigated. according to the law, no new legal proceedings or legal action in this way can be brought.

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Exemptions under the Act

The law exempts any “ancient and historic monument or archaeological site or remains covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 (24 of 1958) or any other law currently in force”.

Section 5 of the law also states that all cases relating to the ongoing Babri-Ram Janmabhoomi disputes have been excluded from the law.

Why the Places of Worship Act is relevant to the Gyanvapi Mosque case

The Supreme Court had refused last Friday to grant an interim standstill order on the investigation at the premises of the Gyanvapi mosque. The high court, however, agreed to consider entering a Muslim party’s plea against the investigation which the court agreed to hear on Tuesday.

A local court in Uttar Pradesh on Monday ordered the closure of a pond in the Gyanvapi Masjid complex after lawyers representing the Hindu petitioners said a Shivling was found there during the court-mandated video investigation. . However, a member of the mosque management committee Anjuman Intezamiya Masjid Committee disputed this claim, saying that the object was part of the water fountain mechanism of the wazookhana tank where worshipers perform ablution before offering the namaz.

The petitioners claimed that the investigation is against the law.

In Babri Masjid, the court held that according to the Places of Worship Act, all places of worship will henceforth be treated according to law and left in the same condition as they were in 1947. Parties like the AIMPLB have opposed the claim that the mosque is a temple and say that this prayer should have been immediately rejected by the courts.

READ: Tracing the history of Babri Masjid: 1528 to today

AIMPLB Secretary General Khalid Saifullah Rahmani in a statement to the media said that in 1937, in the case of Deen Mohammad v. Secretary of State, the court decided based on oral evidence and documents that this whole complex (Gyanvapi Mosque complex) belonged to the Muslim Waqf and Muslims have the right to offer namaz there.

The court also delineated the areas that belonged to both the mosque and the temple. At the same time, the wazookhana was accepted as property of the mosque, Rahmani added.

The Waqf Board has seized the UP High Court in this case and the case is pending there.

(With PTI entries)

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