Indian court to hear plea by Hindu women asking to be allowed to pray at mosque

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An Indian court has allowed a civil suit to proceed that challenges the title of a centuries-old mosque in Uttar Pradesh, Gyanvapi mosque, and the land surrounding it.

Earlier this year, a survey team had claimed that it found relics of the Hindu god Shiva and other religious symbols inside the mosque’s premises.

On Monday, the Varanasi district and sessions court dismissed the challenge by the mosque’s management after five Hindu women filed petitions last year seeking the right to worship on the outer wall of the mosque complex.

The women claimed in their petitions that the mosque premises was once a Hindu temple which was demolished by Mughal emperor Aurangazeb and subsequently a mosque was built on the land.

The dismissal of the challenge by the mosque committee implies that the civil suits will be heard in detail and an examination of evidence will follow.

The mosque is located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple in the city of Varanasi, regarded as a holy city by Hindus, and is also the constituency from where the country’s Hindu nationalist prime minister was elected.

In May, a portion of the mosque, a water tank where Muslims perform the wuzu or ritual of ablution before offering prayers, was ordered to be sealed off.

Contesting the claims of the Hindu side, the Muslims alleged that the mosque was built on Waqf (mosque) premises.

In July, the Supreme Court said that before intervening in the matter, it would wait for the Varanasi district court’s decision on the mosque committee’s challenge to the civil suits.

The mosque has emerged as the latest Hindu-Muslim flashpoint in which Hindu hardliners claim some mosques have been built over demolished Hindu temples in the country.

Ahead of the Varanasi court’s order on Monday, security was tightened and prohibitory orders were imposed around the mosque area to prevent any unrest.

“Alert has been sounded in all sensitive areas ahead of the court’s verdict in the Gyanvapi matter. Patrolling is going on to ensure peace. Religious heads have issued statements asking for peace to be maintained,” Prashant Kumar, additional director general of police (law and order) was quoted as saying by The Hindustan Times.

After the verdict, celebrations broke out outside the court as the petitioners claimed that “India is happy with the verdict”. One of the petitioners from the Hindu side, Manju Vyas, told the media after the verdict: “Bharat (India) is happy today, my Hindu brothers and sisters should light diyas (lamps) to celebrate.”

The mosque management has announced that they will appeal Monday’s verdict in the Allahabad high court.

The Gyanvapi mosque dispute has raised concerns that there will be a repeat of the decades-long Ayodhya legal dispute.

In 2019, in a major win for the Narendra Modi administration, the Supreme Court allowed the federal government to construct a Hindu temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya where the Babri Masjid, an historic mosque, was demolished in 1992.