Courts must act firmly to halt the legal assault on religious institutions
Laws are being used to stir up religious issues in order to offer a fig-leaf of legitimacy to a communal assault on the country’s secular character, which is a source of considerable worry. Clearly encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to take over a disputed site in Ayodhya to Hindu claimants, sectarian groups are attempting to seize sites in Varanasi and Mathura, including the Gyanvapi Mosque and the Shahi Idgah Masjid. With the intentional promotion of politically associated religious organizations, the claim that significant Muslim sites of worship were erected after Hindu temples were demolished is gaining traction among sectors of Indian culture. The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, was designed to prohibit such efforts to modify the nature of places of worship under the pretext of repairing alleged historical wrongs. It aimed to keep the status of houses of worship as it was on August 15, 1947, so that current lawsuits and actions would stop and future claims would be denied. Despite this, courts continue to allow processes to be commenced in blatant contravention of the law. A civil court in Gyanvapi has not only heard the case but has also ordered a commission to videotape the mosque to determine its religious nature. The Supreme Court has proven ineffective. It has simply ordered certain basic steps to safeguard Muslim worshipers and their places of worship, rather than putting an immediate stop to such processes geared at building a groundswell of opinion in favor of transforming such sites into temples.
Anyone acquainted with the Ayodhya controversy, which resulted in the destruction of the Babri Masjid, riots, and bombings, would see that all efforts to alter the nature of places of worship have the goal of utilizing religion for political purposes and marginalizing minorities. Even the Supreme Court, for some reason, feels compelled to allow procedural principles of civil law to be addressed in such cases. It has sent the Gyanvapi case to the District Judge and requested that the motion to dismiss the plaint be given priority since the case would hinge on whether the litigation is forbidden under the Places of Worship Act. Revenge organizations will continue their unrelenting assault on minority houses of worship as long as even one application is pending someplace. The District Court in Mathura has overruled a previous court’s decision, ruling that the Act does not preclude a petition to demolish a Masjid on the grounds that the land is the birthplace of Lord Krishna. The political climate is favorable for such initiatives, and proponents may anticipate government support. To safeguard the spirit of the Places of Worship Act and maintain social harmony, the courts must act quickly and firmly.