India’s Supreme Court on Friday refused to stop a controversial video inspection of a medieval mosque to seek remnants of a Hindu temple in Uttar Pradesh state, the latest row over Muslim monuments that are claimed by Hindus.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana refused immediate intervention on the petition filed by the Gyanvapi mosque management after a civil court in Varanasi ordered that the entire mosque complex be inspected by video following claims that it contained idols of Hindu gods.
“We have not seen the papers. We don’t even know what is the matter. I don’t know anything. How can I pass an order? I will read and then pass orders. Let me see,” CJI Ramana told the petitioners who had pleaded for a status quo in the matter.
Last year, a group of Hindu women filed a plea in the local court demanding that they be allowed to pray inside the mosque complex that they believe contains idols of Hindu deities.
The women in their petition demanded free access to the complex and the right to pray to all “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex”.
The litigation prompted the court to order an inspection and video recording of the mosque complex that has to be completed by May 17, despite protest by the mosque management over claims that the officials involved in the exercise were biased.
The 17th century Gyanvapi mosque in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi is believed to be built by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb allegedly over the ruins of an ancient Vishweshwar temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
An 18th-century Kashi Vishwanath temple lies in proximity of the mosque.
Right-wing Hindu groups including Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a radical group linked to powerful Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have campaigned for decades to reclaim the site over claims that the Mughal ruler had demolished the temple to make way for the mosque.
Several Hindu groups have unsuccessfully filed lawsuits to reclaim the mosque complex that is protected under India’s Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.
The legislation was passed to protect historical but contentious religious sites in the country and mandates that the nature of all places of worship shall be maintained as it was on the day India gained freedom from British rule in 1947.
But recurrent calls from the Hindu right-wing parties to demolish the mosque like the 14th century Babri Mosque that was razed by the members of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and its RSS volunteers in 1992.
Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim politician, called the videography of the mosque a blatant violation of the legal provision by the ruling political party.
He claimed that the ruling party was following the same pattern of Babri Mosque which was claimed to be built on the birthplace of Lord Ram by a section of Hindus.
“BJP wants to finish off the cultural aspect of Muslims in India … they want to erase the cultural history of Muslims. The party has no regard for the rule of law. They have decided there will be permanent communalism in India,” Mr Owaisi told The National.
“What is happening is a complete violation of the act … it is like the Babri Masjid, the same pattern. They are saying it is a temple. I do not want the same thing happening to Gyanvapi,” he said.
The renewed calls to determine the presence of idols in the mosque comes at a time when right-wing Hindu groups have made similar claims on Mughal and Islamic historical monuments, including the Taj Mahal which they claim is a Hindu temple.
On Tuesday, police in Delhi had detained scores of right-wing Hindus after they staged a protest near Qutub Minar, a 12th century Unesco world heritage site by Qutb-ud-din Aibak, the founder of Delhi Sultanate to rename it after the Hindu deity- Vishnu.