INDIA: Since yesterday, the hashtag #RemoveAct1991 has been trending on Twitter. The recent controversy over the Gyanvapi mosque survey has pushed the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, to the forefront.
The lower court is hearing the case over the mosque near the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex in Varanasi. AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi invoked the Places of Worship Act of 1991, emphasizing that Gyanvapi “was and will always be a mosque”.
The PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress regime established the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which imposes a positive obligation on the state to maintain the religious character of every place of worship as it existed at the time of independence.
Let’s look at the Places of Worship Act, which is being discussed in the Gyanvapi mosque case, which is being heard in both the Supreme Court and the lower courts.
What is the ‘Places of Worship Act 1991’?
The Places of Worship Act of 1991 prohibits “conversion of any place of worship” and provides “for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947, and for matters associated with or incidental thereto.”
The religious nature of a place of worship stays the same as it was on August 15, 1947, according to the Act passed by P.V. Narsimha Rao’s Congress government during the Ram Mandir campaign.
However, the Act has an exception: the Babri Masjid dispute. According to Section 3 of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, the conversion of places of worship is banned. “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 a different religious denomination or any section thereof,” the Act states.
The Gyanvapi row
This issue concerns a petition submitted to allow daily worship and observance of rites of Goddess Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesha, Lord Hanuman, and Nandi at the back of the Gyanvapi mosque’s western wall. Despite the Gyanvapi mosque management committee’s opposition, a Varanasi court approved a videographic assessment of the mosque grounds.
The survey was completed three days later, at about 10.15 a.m. on May 16, to the satisfaction of all parties. On the same day, a Varanasi court ordered the space inside the mosque where a Shivling was allegedly discovered to be sealed.
Meanwhile, Special Advocate Commissioner Vishal Singh filed a survey report detailing the work done on May 14, 15, and 16. He reportedly noted the presence of a Shivling, Hindu symbols, and a portrait of a god within the mosque grounds.
On May 20, the Supreme Court ordered that the matter be transferred to the Varanasi District Judge’s court. It stated that its interim ruling dated May 17 will stay in effect pending the resolution of the Hindu side’s plea challenging the suit’s maintainability and an 8-week period after that. The case will be heard in the Supreme Court on July 21.