Why is it so challenging for Hindus and Muslims to separately pray at Gyanvapi Mosque?
In 1991, the Places of Worship (special provision) Act was enacted, prohibiting conversion of any place of worship and change in its religious character as it existed on August 15, 1947.
A week ago, Judge A K Vishvesha of Varanasi district court accepted plea of four Hindu ladies to offer prayers to Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Hanuman and Ganesh on the outer wall of Gyanvapi mosque, ruling out any violation of laws. The irony is that ladies had been worshiping uninterruptedly since August 15, 1947 until Mulayam Singh Yadav, then chief minister UP, restricted their prayers in 1993 to twice a year. They neither had made any claim over the land nor asked for converting mosque into a temple. Meanwhile, a court-mandated survey revealed too many tell-tale signs of temple's existence, encouraging Hindus to seek restoration of Kashi Vishwanath Temple where Gyanvapi Mosque stands, right to worship 'Shivling' in the ablution (wuzu) pond, a survey to locate base of 'Shivling' and carbon dating of the Masjid to establish its age. Muslims, on the other hand, have decided to contest claims of Hindus both legally and politically.
The broader issue is why both communities cannot resolve their religious disputes through talks and give and take. India's partition on religious ground is one reason that has left an enduring scar on both the communities. Other is the partisan role played by Congress governments for 54 years of their rule. There was nothing wrong in having greater concern for Muslims' welfare who had stayed behind but instead of taking Hindus on board, they accentuated Hindus' sense of political and economic discrimination. But what upset Hindus most was denial of religious rights.
The denial began with depriving Hindus of equality under Article 26 of the constitution which guarantees right to every religious section to manage their religious institutions and acquire and administer property for charitable purposes. Under Nehru, Congress-ruled state governments were tacitly encouraged to take control of temples, their vast properties and assets. This loot was like smell of blood that no government has since been willing to forgo. D K Shivkumar, Karnataka Congress president, epitomizes this greed succinctly. He has warned chief minister Bommai against any thought of letting go 'this wealth of government'. All states instead of doing charitable work for Hindus and maintaining over 2.85 lakh temples, 70 per cent of which are staring extinction, use temple donations as budgetary support. However, religious institutions of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others are out of bounds for any state control.
P V Narsimha Rao government made the matter worse. In 1991, the Places of Worship (special provision) Act was enacted, prohibiting conversion of any place of worship and change in its religious character as it existed on August 15, 1947. It effectively meant that Hindus could not claim any right on temples that had suffered depredations during four hundred years of British and Mughal rule though temples supposedly belonged to them. That's why ladies had sought permission to only pray at Gyanvapi Mosque but even that was denied.
Congress did not stop at that. In 1995, the government came up with Waqf Act. It barred civil courts from entertaining any claims against Waqf property and gave Waqf Board right to acquire any property which it 'thought' was theirs. Consequently, its land holding went up from 4.9 lakh acres of land in 2009 to 8. 54 lakh acres in 2021, making it the third largest land owner after Army and Railways. Hindus, Christians and Sikhs have no such Act to enable them become Zamindars. The absurdity of Act came to notice when Tamil Nadu Waqf Board claimed ownership of generations-old 7 Hindu majority villages and a 1500-year old temple in Tiruchirappalli that dates before Islam's advent. In another instance, a day before conduct of code was to be in force for 2014 parliamentary elections, Salman Khurshid's proposal was endorsed by Manmohan Singh's cabinet in lightening hurry, withdrawing government claim over 123 prime properties in Delhi and gifting them to Waqf.
Given these unfortunate realities, talks of reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus is a chimera. Judicial intervention is perhaps the only option though judges may not be equipped to deal with issues of faith as they are thinly based on evidence and logic.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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