Gyanvapi mosque survey timeline: Allahabad HC grants permission.

On August 3, the Allahabad High Court dismissed the challenge put forth by the Gyanvapi mosque committee against the Varanasi district court’s order. The district court had requested a “scientific investigation/survey/excavation” of the mosque premises, asserting that a “scientific survey is necessary in the interest of justice.”Following this dismissal, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was granted permission to continue the survey that had commenced on July 24 but was halted due to intervention from the Supreme Court.The Gyanvapi mosque stands next to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and was constructed in the 17th century by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb after demolishing the original Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Later, the current temple was built beside the mosque by orders of Queen Ahilya Bai Holkar in the late 18th century.The legal battle over the mosque has escalated recently after five Hindu women sought the right to worship Maa Shrinagar Gauri on the outer wall of the mosque complex. The case has moved from a magistrate’s court to a district court, then to the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court, and back to the district court and the High Court.The Varanasi district court’s order, issued on July 21, 2023, called for a “scientific investigation/survey/excavation” of the mosque premises. The ASI was directed to conduct a “ground penetrating radar survey just below the three domes of the building” and perform excavations if needed. The court tasked the ASI with determining whether the present structure was built over a pre-existing Hindu temple and preparing a list of all artifacts found during the survey, conducting scientific investigations, and dating exercises to ascertain the age and nature of construction.The case started when the Hindu women sought the right to worship Maa Shringar Gauri. The district court clarified that the survey would not include the ablution area (wuzu khana) sealed last year on orders of the Supreme Court, which was contested as either a Shivling or a fountain by the parties involved. The survey proceedings were to be videographed, and the report was due by August 4, 2023.Previously, on May 16, 2023, the Allahabad High Court ordered a “scientific survey” with carbon dating of the “Shivling” discovered during an earlier videographic survey. The petitioners, Laxmi Devi, and others had approached the HC after the Varanasi district judge rejected their plea for the survey on October 14, 2022.The case had entered the Supreme Court’s domain when the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee challenged the proceedings, stating they aimed to alter the religious character of the mosque. The Supreme Court transferred the case to the district judge on May 20, 2022, and said it would intervene after the district judge handled preliminary aspects of the case.The main issues in the case are whether The Places of Worship Act, 1991, bars the litigants on the Hindu side from seeking the right to worship a deity within the mosque complex. Section 4 of the Act states that the religious character of a place of worship on August 15, 1947, shall continue unchanged. The Muslim side argues that the suit would change the character of the mosque that has existed for over 600 years, while the Hindu petitioners claim that Hindu deities were worshiped inside the mosque complex until 1993, with prayers allowed annually since then.The Act had an exception for the Ayodhya site, and petitions challenging the Act’s constitutionality are pending before the Supreme Court. The Act has been criticized for barring judicial review, imposing an arbitrary retrospective cutoff date, and restricting the right to religion for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs.

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