Amid the ongoing controversy related to the Gyanvapi mosque survey, many voices have been raised in connection to the applicability of the Places of Worship Act of 1991. The debate around the topic is raging after claims about finding a Shivling inside a pond on the mosque’s premises were made. However, the mosque committee has claimed that the structure is a fountain. During all the online and offline debates, we have heard about Places of Worship Act. What is the Places of Worship Act and its relevance in Gyanvapi Mosque-Kashi Vishwanath Temple Dispute?
Supreme Court Directions In Gyanvapi Masjid Case?
The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the District Magistrate of Varanasi to ensure the protection of the area around the Gyanvapi-Gauri Shringar complex where Shivling is said to be found. The bench has asked to ensure the protection of claimed Shivling but has also clarified that the right of Muslims to offer prayers should not be affected.
The apex court had stayed the May 16 order of the Varanasi court where it had issued orders to seal the area and restrict the entry of people. However, the proceedings in Varanasi court are not stayed. The top court bench has adjourned the matter till May 19.
What Is Gyanvapi Mosque Dispute?
A petition was filed by a group of priests in 1991 in a Varanasi Court where it has alleged that Aurangzeb has ordered to demolish a part of the Kashi Vishwanath temple and build the Gyanvyapi mosque during his reign in the 16th century.
The petitioners have sought permission to worship Gauri Shringar on the Gyanvyapi mosque premises. In 2019, Allahabad High Court ordered a stay on the ASI survey that was requested by the petitioners.
The controversy over the Gyanvyapi mosque started again after five women filed a petition seeking permission to worship Shringar Gauri and other Hindu idols inside the Gyanvyapi mosque.
Last month, the Varanasi Court ordered a videographed survey of the Gyanvyapi mosque.
People Voicing For Applicability of Places Of Worship Act,1991
AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi, Prashant Bhushan, and many others are raising their voice for the protection of Gyanvapi mosque under the Places of Worship Act of 1991.
I haven't understood the need for 'balance' in an order on a blatant attempt to violate the Places of Worship Act (which freezes places of worship as they existed on 15 Aug 47). How can a court permit a claim on a place of worship on basis of what may have happened 400 years ago?
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) May 18, 2022
The Places of Worship Act, 1991, clearly prohibits conversion of places of worship as they existed on 15th August 1947.
History should not be used as instrument to oppress the present generation.
Why should courts allow petitions that defy Places of Worship Act?
— Arfa Khanum Sherwani (@khanumarfa) May 16, 2022
If you are feeling useless, then think about the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. 🙂
— Areeb Uddin (@Areebuddin14) May 16, 2022
Reminder to the Courts in India of the most important, Places of Worship Act, 1991. It mandates in no uncertain terms – "history & its wrongs shall not be used as instrument to oppress the present & the future." Thus, character of the Gyanvapi Mosque at present can't be changed.
— Kawalpreet Kaur (@kawalpreetdu) May 16, 2022
However, some vouched for non-applicability of the Act and some also demanded to strike down the Places of Worship Act.
— ADV. ASHUTOSH J. DUBEY 🇮🇳 (@AdvAshutoshBJP) May 16, 2022
Have the neo-lawyers read the list of exceptions to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991?
The Congress and AIMIM are needlessly communalising a legal battle and whipping up sentiments. pic.twitter.com/UNJesPdIhb
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) May 17, 2022
Exclusive: Places of Worship Act must be 'struck down', says Subramanian Swamy amid Gyanvapi Masjid row https://t.co/x3lGfTDpEi
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) May 17, 2022
Time to scrap Places of worship Act 1991
This Act is unconstitutional, anti people and violates all basic principles of Justice and Equality
— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishra_IND) May 16, 2022
What Is the Places Of Worship Act, 1991?
The Places of Worship has been in effect since July 11, 1991. The legislation was introduced by the PV Narsimha Rao government in 1991 to maintain the status quo at places of worship. The law became a contentious topic after BJP opposed it.
The Act declares that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the day of 15th August 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day. It aims to prohibit conversion of any worship and also to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on 15th August 1947.
“The religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day,” Section 4 (1) of the Places of Worship Act.
Section 4(2) of the Act states, “if any suit, appeal, or other proceedings concerning the conversion of the religious traits of any place of worship, existing on August 15, 1947, is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, the same shall abate. No fresh proceedings on such matters shall be initiated.”
“No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof,” states Section 3 of the Places of Worship Act.
Exception Under Places Of Worship Act, 1991
However, the Act made an exception in the Ram Janmbhumi and Babri Masjid case. Section 5 of the Places of Worship Act states that its provisions shall not apply to Ram Janmbhumi and Babri Masjid case.
The Act exempts any places of worship that qualify as ancient and historical monuments, archaeological sites, or remains covered under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958.
What Is The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites And Remains Act of 1958?
As per Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, an ancient monument is any structure, erection or monument or any tumulus or place of interment, on any cave, rock sculpture, inscription or monolith, which is of historical, archeological or artistic interest and which has been existence for not less than 100 years.
Therefore, any monument or place of worship which is more than 100 years old could be considered an ancient monument under the law and is automatically exempt from the Places of Worship Act.