A Review Of Places Of Worship Act,1991 And The Gyanvaapi Issue
A legal dispute has arisen around the videography inspection of the Gyanvapi
Mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, with some contesting the move's
constitutionality. After receiving a petition from some Hindu organisations
alleging that Aurangazeb had constructed the mosque after destroying Hindu
temples, a civil court in Varanasi ordered a videographic survey of the Gyanvapi
mosque complex, which is next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
This brought attention to the provisions of the 1991 Places of Worship Act.
Members of the Anjuman Intezamiya Masjid Committee have refuted the claims,
arguing that the survey violated the Places of Worship Act and bringing the
matter before the Supreme Court.
What is the Places of Worship Act?The Parliament passed the Places of Worship Act in 1991 with the intention of
preserving the status quo among the various religions. It was developed at a
period when the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign and Rath Yatra of renowned BJP leader
LK Advani were gaining traction and sparking violent incidents in Uttar Pradesh.
Shankarrao Bhavrao Chavan, a former union home minister in the PV Narasimha Rao
Cabinet, passed a bill that led to the creation of the Act. The status quo from
August 15, 1947 must be maintained, and places of worship cannot be changed to
accommodate other religions or denominations, according to the Bill.
What Does The Act Say About The Conversion Of Religious Places Of Worship?The conversion, in whole or in part, of a place of worship belonging to any
religious denomination into a place of worship belonging to a different religion
is expressly prohibited by the 3rd Section of the Places of Worship Act,1991.
The provision forbids conversions even among the same religious denomination's
A house of worship's religious nature "must remain to be the same as it existed"
on August 15, 1947, according to Section 4(1) of the Act. According to Section
4(2), all ongoing legal actions or lawsuits in any court relating to the
conversion of the religious nature of any place of worship that existed on
August 15, 1947, shall be dropped. No new legal actions or litigation of this
nature may be brought, as required by law.
Exemptions under the Act
Any "ancient and historical monument, archaeological site, or remains covered by
the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of
1958), or any other law now in force," are exempt according to the Act.
A lawsuit involving the ongoing conflicts over Babri-Ram Janmabhoomi was exempt
from the Act, according to Section 5 of the Act.
Why Is The Places Of Worship Act Important In The Gyanvapi Mosque Case?A local Uttar Pradesh court ordered the sealing of a pond in the Gyanvapi Masjid
complex after lawyers for the Hindu petitioners claimed that a Shivling was
discovered there during the court-ordered videography survey. However, Anjuman
Intezamiya Masjid Committee member disputed the claim, claiming that the object
was part of the water fountain mechanism at the wazookhana reservoir where
devotees perform ablutions before offering namaz.
The Masjid Committee claims that the survey violates the Act. The court stated
in the Babri Masjid judgement that under the Places of Worship Act, all places
of worship will be legally and should be left in the same condition as they were
It is worth noting that the PV Narasimha Rao government passed the Places of
Worship Act on September 18, 1991, one year before the Babri Masjid was
demolished. Even though the act's provisions did not apply to the dispute, it
was viewed as a tool for resolving the conflict by instilling confidence in the
Muslim community. It reassured the community that, even if they accepted Hindu
organisations' claims on the disputed site, other mosques across the country
would be protected and their statuses would remain the same.
The act does not only apply to mosques, but also to other places of worship of
all faiths, such as temples, gurudwaras, churches, monasteries, and any other
public religious worship. The act states that all suits, appeals, and
proceedings pertaining to converting the character of a place of worship that
were pending before any court or authority on August 15, 1947, must be dropped
as soon as the law becomes effective. The law is a special enactment that
supersedes all other laws in effect.
Now that the masjid committee has petitioned the Supreme Court, it is up to
India's highest court to exercise its inherent powers and stay the proceedings
that are in violation of the Places of Worship Act and have the potential to
disrupt India's calm and peace, potentially opening a Pandora's box. If such
proceedings are allowed to proceed, it will give radical organisations false
hope of staking claims on various disputed religious sites. It will also instil
fear in minority communities about their places of worship, with a knock-on
effect on the nation's secular fabric.
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