Indian court orders medieval mosque survey after Hindus claim ownership

Group claims Islamic structure was built over birthplace of Lord Krishna

The domes of the Muslim Shahi Masjid Idgah mosque within the complex of the Hindu Krishna Janambhoomi temple in Mathura in 2003. AFP
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An Indian court has ordered the inspection of a medieval mosque complex in the northern Mathura city over an ownership plea by a Hindu group that claims the Islamic structure was built over the purported birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna.

The civil judge in Mathura told the revenue department to inspect the Shahi Idgah mosque complex, spread over nearly six hectares of land, before filing a report next month when the case will be heard by the court.

The right-wing group Hindu Sena is demanding the removal of the 17th-century mosque and handing over the land to Hindus to construct a temple.

The Shahi Idgah mosque was built on the orders of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb around 1670 near to the Krishna Janmasthal — which is believed to be the site where Lord Krishna was born — after demolishing a temple.

The Krishna Janmasthan Temple is one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimage sites.

The court in May allowed the appeal by the Hindu group seeking ownership of the land on which the mosque is built.

Several Hindu petitioners have filed at least a dozen cases before the courts in the past two years over the mosque complex, ranging from ownership claims to a right for Hindu devotees to worship inside the mosque complex.

The Shri Krishna Janmasthan temple, left, and Shahi Eidgah mosque in Mathura in India's Uttar Pradesh state in February. AFP

The appeal also demands that the court declare a 50-year-old agreement between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh and the Shahi Idgah Masjid committee illegal.

The agreement between the managing committees of the two religious sites redrew the boundaries and constructed a wall in 1968 to allow both places of worship to operate simultaneously.

Petitions barred under Indian law

The latest court order comes months after a court in Allahabad controversially allowed a plea by Hindu petitioners for a survey of the medieval Gyanvapi mosque over claims that the structure was built after demolishing a Hindu temple.

The mosque was built during the reign of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb.

The pleas were admitted by courts despite Indian federal law barring such petitions under The Places of Worship Act 1991.

The legislation was passed to protect historical but contentious religious sites in the country and mandates all places of worship are maintained as they were on the day India gained independence from British rule in 1947.

But there has been a flurry of court cases by Hindu right-wing groups claiming ownership of Muslim religious sites they say were built after demolishing temples.

Experts say the Supreme Court’s judgment in 2019, which awarded a piece of land to Hindus where the medieval Babri Masjid mosque once stood in Ayodhya, has emboldened the right wing.

The Babri Masjid was embroiled in a decades-long legal battle until tens of thousands of Hindus rampaged in Ayodhaya and tore down the mosque in December 1992, followed by months of sectarian violence that killed at least 2,000 people.

Hindus claimed the 14th-century Babri Mosque was built by the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India over the site they believed was the birthplace of Lord Ram.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was at the forefront of the campaign in the late 1980s and has portrayed itself as a champion of the majority Hindu population.

The ruling right-wing party and its allies have been campaigning for decades to “reclaim” hundreds of Muslim religious structures that they claim were constructed after demolishing Hindu temples.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 12:49 PM