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OPINION: Clamour Is Rising To Repeal India's Places Of Worship Act, And Here’s Why

This legislation "prohibits the conversion of any house of worship and maintains its religious identity as of August 15, 1947, and for related concerns."

Gyanvapi Premises

Image: PTI

It all started with a long-standing demand for the construction of a Ram Temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. The poignant maxim of the 1990s, "Ayodhya to bas jhanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai" (Ayodhya was only a glimpse, Kashi-Mathura will follow suit), was dismissed as mere rhetoric in some quarters. However, the emotion behind the cry appears to have set in motion a ripple effect that will not be stopped.

In Rakhi Singh & others, Varanasi district judge A K Visvesha asserted that the petition by the five Hindu women is maintainable under the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) 1908 and will now be heard on merit. The judge noted that the petitioners are not seeking to convert the Gyanvapi mosque into a Shiva temple, nor are they claiming ownership. They are merely seeking the right to worship as a civil right, and thus the 1991 Act's bar is inapplicable. The Mathura District Court too authorised civil suits contesting the Shahi Eidgah's title, stating that the decision on whether the Places of Worship Act will apply can be made later when evidence is submitted. The Places of Worship Act, its constitutionality, and what it allows or prohibits are at the heart of the debate. On September 22, their petition will be heard. The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, is at the heart of the decision.

Prima facie, this legislation strives to ensure mosque and temple decorum as of August 15, 1947. This controversial and clandestine act was passed during the Congress administration in 1991 in response to Ram Mandir's resurrection efforts. Many feel this was a constitutional safeguard to prevent inquiries into thousands of Islamic-occupied Hindu temples, including Mathura and Varanasi. This legislation "prohibits the conversion of any house of worship and maintains its religious identity as of August 15, 1947, and for related concerns." It quashed all ongoing ownership cases, appeals, and judicial actions before August 15, 1947. Thus, it blocked judicial inquiry into the factual and historical nature of religious places. This legislation carries a maximum 3-year jail sentence and a fine.

Unadulterated history is needed to understand the 1991 Places of Worship Act's dogmatism

Since the Islamic invasion of India in the 11th century, the demolition of Hindu temples has been a continual practice. The Quran notes:

The complete destruction and annihilation of Kafirs and polytheists (40:70).

Hindus (the infidels) are called the worst of creatures (98:6).

For Hindus, non-believers are threatened with eternal roasting (4:56).

No other deity has to be worshipped other than Allah (40:62).

So fight the minions of the devil '(4:76).

"Fight against them until idolatry is no more" (2:193).

"Idolatry is worse than carnage" (2: 217).

As invaders desecrated temples, killed Brahmins, committed mass atrocities, and enslaved women, their intolerance was mirrored in their cruelty. The temple of Somnath was destroyed 17 times, demonstrating Islamists' religiously-motivated hate for everything non-Islamic. The Taliban's destruction of the Buddha of Bamyan is a recent example of Islamist supremacist ideology that prioritizes exclusionary authoritarianism above humanity's precious assets. Islamist conquerors have transformed Hindu temples into mosques throughout history to demoralize and vilify Hindus who refused to convert. The Places of Worship Act was passed without consulting indigenous groups, and the Law Commission did no investigation at the government's request. The Act was implemented without giving the then-BJP-led opposition ample warning. No one debated the bill's implications for Indian communities' Article 25 rights. The POW Act unconstitutionally inhibits communities' capacity to seek legal vengeance for historical and civilizational injustices. The Act seems unlawful and is likely to be overturned.

ASI's role in the Kashi Vishwanath Temple survey 

Ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites protected under the 1958 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act are excluded from the 1991 Places of Worship Act. Appellants wanted an ASI-led archaeological survey. Since the ASI team uncovered the Shivling and other Hindu relics in the complex, the structure is exempt from the Places of Worship Act as it relates to court proceedings under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act. The Places of Worship Act exempts judicial processes, lawsuits, and appeals begun after August 15, 1947. Given that the temple was destroyed in 1669, Aurangzeb died in 1707, and cement was created in 1845, it's a falsehood that Aurangzeb constructed the cement-based well as part of the mosque complex.

Historian Sitaram Goel, in his seminal work, "Hindu Temples: What Happened To Them," noted, "The mosque of Benares, built by Aurangzeb, was constructed on the site of the Bisheshwar (Vishwanath) Temple." The temple was very tall and was very holy among Hindus. On this very site, with those very stones, he constructed a lofty mosque, where the ancient stones were rearranged after being embedded in the walls of the mosque." They are willing to term a mass movement "majoritarianism" or "Hindu communalism," but if there is no mass movement, people doubt the authenticity of the assertions.

According to estimates, 40,000 temples were demolished by 'invaders.' It is no surprise that the present-day Muslims who went to the alleged Islamic structure called "Gyanvapi Mosque" knew about the Shivling and opted to call it their wazookhana, i.e., the bathroom to cleanse the body parts. The fact that the Muslim clerics present at the time of the survey tried to preclude the videography quoting a lame excuse, "the fish might die," testifies to the same. What sort of brotherhood would these Muslims have for Hindus and whether or not Hindus must reconsider the realm of secularism? After all, temples were continually razed across Bharat.

Historians Sitaram Goel and Shri Arun Shourie have written extensively on the issue, including how efforts were made to "secularize" history. In his work Hideaway Communalism, Shourie revealed the efforts of several important academies to bury original texts that chronicled and lauded the demolition of temples in different regions of the nation by invaders and the rationale for such devastation. In any event, as it is an issue of property rights as well as religious rights, no one may make compromises on behalf of impacted temples and communities.

As advocate J. Sai Deepak once noted, "The Places of Worship Act impedes civilizational justice and must be repealed." An Indian government, unlike the British Indian government, should take a firm stand on topics of civilizational importance. Since the party in opposition was vociferous in its opposition to the POW Act in 1991, it must act on its beliefs now that it is in power and has what it takes to right historical wrongs. Legally, impacted temple communities are also entitled to recover such sites. However, since they are being gracious and requesting the restoration of at least their holy sites, waqf boards and churches might provide the lands they own for the rebuilding of their respective institutions after turning over the occupied sites. Negationism cannot masquerade as secularism in the New India.

Time has come for us to ask these questions as Indians

  1. Considering historical facts and common sense in retrospect, is it fair to assume that the Islamic invaders, who hailed from rags in the desert and never built any mosque or building of whatsoever kind anywhere in the world, who coveted water, leave aside riches, came to India and suddenly started building monuments like the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, and Qutub Minar?
  2. Let alone the construction, even the name of the alleged Islamic structure, i.e., Gyanvapi, is a Sanskrit word. Why would a zealot who only wants to follow the Quran use a Sanskrit word for a mosque when everything else is disgusting, hateful, and unacceptable to them?
  3. Should the Indian state be considered prudent and sagacious if it continues to subjugate the Hindu population by further enforcing the Abrahamic religious annexure on the core pillars of Hindu society, i.e., temples? Islamic sectarianism has been very focused on the most sacred Hindu sites, like Shri Ram Janmabhoomi, Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi, and thousands of other temples.
  4. Is not the chain of incidents of terrorists targeting Hindu pilgrims, like the burning of train compartments containing Karsewaks in Godhra, including the recent case of bombing the bus to Vaishno Devi, driven by the same religious motives of the Islamists that motivated the destruction of temples in the first place?
  5. Does the creation of Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh have a lot to do with the Islamic conquest, which most Hindus in India don't know much about?
  6. Doesn't this imply that those who oppose Hindu reclaiming of occupied places are unaware of the historical realities?

Yuvraj Pokharna is an independent Journalist and Columnist. He tweets on @pokharnaprince.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions, and perspectives appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.) 

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