May 19, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Places of Worship Act, 1991 is relevant for India. We also look at the rift in RJD in Bihar, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Places of Worship Act, 1991 – Necessary Or A Hindrance?
India has thousands of Central and State laws passed a century ago that still apply in today’s world. Many have argued about their irrelevance to the current times, making the legal process long, expensive, and time-consuming. When it comes to religion, a touchy subject, to say the least, some laws are intended to protect certain religious groups and society at large.
With the current Gyanvapi controversy, the Places of Worship Act, 1991, is under the scanner. A court is currently hearing a plea by the Committee of Management of Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, Varanasi, challenging the survey of the Gyanvapi mosque. Does the law hold water in today’s polarising atmosphere, or is it necessary to protect and preserve India’s rich and complicated history?
Before going into the history of this law, let’s see why it’s in the news. Temples and mosques aren’t merely places of worship in India but emotive topics of discussion and debate. In Varanasi, the Gyanvapi shrine premises in now under the spotlight. At this site is the Gyanvapi Masjid (also known as the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid). Adjacent to it is the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple, where Lord Shiva resides.
The term Gyanvapi translates to well of knowledge since temples were once centres of learning. Historians are divided on the date and original structure at the site. Some believe that the mosque was built in 1669 during Aurangzeb’s rule. Hindus believe the lingam of the older temple was hidden by priests when the structure was demolished.
There’s another belief – that the Gyanvapi site had an ancient temple that was partially destroyed during the invasion of Muhammad Ghori in 1194. In the 14th century, Jaunpur’s Sharqi Sultan Muhammad Shah destroyed it to build the Gyanvapi mosque. There’s yet another viewpoint – the Kashi temple and the Gyanvapi mosque were constructed by Akbar.
Whatever be the history of the site and its structures, the temple and mosque have stood side by side since the decline of the Mughal empire. The legal dispute began in 1991. Three locals moved a Varanasi court seeking permission to worship in the mosque area. They said it was the original site of the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The mosque management committee opposed it and dismissed their claims.
Later, Vijay Shankar Rastogi, a Varanasi-based lawyer, approached the court representing the temple’s presiding deity. This is the origin of the current controversy. Last April, the court ordered an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-monitored survey of the Gyanvapi premises. The mosque committee secured a stay in September from the Allahabad High court.
Here’s where the Place of Worship Act comes into play. It’s a law that prohibits the conversion of any place of worship as it existed on 15th August 1947. In particular, Section 3 bars the conversion of places of worship into a place of worship of another religion or religious denomination. It was brought by the Congress government of P V Narasimha Rao when the Ram temple issue was at its peak.
At the time, the Babri Masjid was still in place, but LK Advani’s rath yatra had sparked communal tensions. The BJP opposed the bill. Keep in mind, at the time, the VHP and the BJP spoke of liberating the temples of Varanasi and Mathura also. Interestingly, the RSS distanced itself from such rhetoric in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2019 verdict granting the Ayodhya land to Hindus.
VIEW: Necessary to preserve and protect history
When the Supreme Court gave its verdict on the Babri Masjid case, it left many Muslims disappointed. However, it treated this as a special case while explicitly saying the Indian State protects all existing Muslim places of worship. It affirmed the validity of the Places of Worship Act, 1991 speaking about the country’s secular values.
The current case has more to do with grievance politics and law. Nothing is stopping Parliament from repealing the law, except the BJP’s hesitancy. The party has realised that doing so would open up Pandora’s Box. The law is necessary to maintain law and order. Any movement on this would only fan the communal flames brighter. Remember, the law was passed at a crucial time during the Babri Masjid issue.
Justice Govind Mathur, a former chief justice of the Allahabad High Court stated the legal course adopted in the current case is in conflict with the provisions of the Act. The Act also uses places of worship in the broadest possible terms to cover places of public religious worship of all religions and denominations. The date of August 15th is also important. It was chosen since this was the date when India chose to break from the past and redefine its own political legitimacy. This also applies to historical sites in the context of modernity and not medieval warfare and mythology.
COUNTERVIEW: Secular history and the law impedes justice
When the law was passed by Congress, there wasn’t any study done by the Law Commission at the government’s request. There was no credible discussion on the legislation’s impact on the rights of affected Indic communities under Article 25 of the Constitution. Concerning the Shri Ramjanmabhoomi case, Section 5 of the Act exempts its legal proceedings. This was recognised by the Supreme Court in its Ayodhya judgment. Yet, it discussed the Act. Hence, given the provision of the Act, the bench’s observations aren’t legally binding.
The solution to the current issue should start with the admission of destruction and repatriation of Holy Sites. The thrust of the Act is to ensure peace and harmony. However, problematic historical events can’t be pushed aside, ignored, or airbrushed. Nor can it be selective. While history can’t be changed, citizens can learn and adapt based on historical events. The Kashi and Mathura sites have established evidence of temples later destroyed.
The establishment of a secular law hasn’t improved Hindu-Muslim relations in the country. Neither community might accept it as is, citing encroachment on its religious rights. The dispute about the site dates back a long time. Can a law enacted in 1991 solve such a dispute? The fact of the matter is the law hasn’t helped. What should’ve been done instead is the formation of a History, Truth and Reconciliation Commission where the facts would be publicly available.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Places of Worship Act, 1991, is necessary.
b) The Places of Worship Act, 1991, is unnecessary.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
From Babri to Benaras, how India’s courts have helped escalate Hindutva claims on mosques
For the Left:
PM Museum: From exclusivity to inclusivity
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Readymade garments hub (Uttar Pradesh) – The state government has rolled out a plan to make the state a hub for readymade garments. An apparel park is in its final stages in Noida with its foundation stone to be laid in July. The government has proposed production units at Gorakhpur, Kanpur, and Agra. The government will also set up 115-export-oriented textile units hoping to attract an estimated ₹3,000 crores worth of investments.
Why it matters: The textile park in Noida will have more than 150 companies with five lakh people estimated to gain employment. Currently, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia are the major producers in the textile supply chain. The state’s share of textile production nationally is 13.24%. It ranks fifth in terms of handlooms and silk production. It has 2.58 lakh handloom and 5.5 lakh power loom weavers in the state.
New renewable energy unit (Andhra Pradesh) – Greenko Group, India’s largest renewable energy storage and transition company will increase its renewable energy capacity by 2027 with a $10 billion investment in the state. This involves work on the world’s largest 5,230 MW integrated pumped hydel storage-cum-wind-solar project at Kurnool. It will have a solar capacity of 3,000 MW and a wind capacity of 550 MW.
Why it matters: These units will help industries give up their current costly power generation of ₹7-8 per unit. Pumped hydroelectricity will cost not more than ₹4-5 per unit. It can also help resolve intermittent wind-solar supplies. This type of power isn’t as costly as LNG or imported coal and will come in handy during shortages.
Rift in RJD (Bihar) – A rift in the Rashtriya Janata Dal has once again come to the fore as opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav skipped a meeting of the party’s central parliamentary board. RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav couldn’t attend on account of receiving medical treatment in Delhi. His wife, Rabri Devi and son Tej Pratap Yadav were present. Tejashwi’s confidant and Bihar RJD president Jagdanand Singh walked out after Tej Pratap Yadav sat next to his mother.
Why it matters: There have been rumours about a rift between ex-Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap. Yadav was missing in the posters of a meeting with RJD’s youth wing last August. Pratap referred to state party chief Jagdanand Singh as Hitler. He alleged that Akash Singh, the previous youth wing leader was sacked without notice. In April, the RJD scored a big win in the state bypoll.
Blast accused caught (Gujarat) – The Gujarat anti-terrorism squad caught four conspirators of the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. In a manhunt spanning 29 years, the accused, all residents of Mumbai, were caught near the Ahmedabad airport. They were arrested following a tip-off and then produced before a local court and sent to seven days of police custody. They will then be handed over to the CBI which has been investigating the case.
Why it matters: The serial blasts in Mumbai killed more than 250 and injured more than 700. It remains unclear why the suspects were in Gujarat, but one theory is that they were there to renew their passports. They used to work for gold smuggler Mohammed Dossa, a henchman for Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind of the blasts. Following the Babri Masjid demolition, Ibrahim planned a series of attacks in India.
Alternative to poppy (Manipur) – As part of the state’s war on drugs, the Horticulture and Soil Conservation Department and the Manipur Organic Mission Agency (MOMA) have promoted alternatives to poppy cultivation in villages where poppy plantations have been destroyed. Peh village is one example where the local council destroyed poppy plantations citing the drug menace. Chief Minister N Biren Singh awarded the village ₹10 lakh, and apple saplings will be provided for plantation.
Why it matters: Last February, leaders and residents of the village informed Singh of the poppy plantations and their subsequent destruction. The state has been working to combat the drug menace and end its illicit poppy cultivation. From 2020 till the reported month of February 2021, 1,420 acres of poppy plantation have been destroyed by law enforcement agencies.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
15.08% – The record high Wholesale Price Inflation in April. It’s the highest since September 1991. It increased in double digits for the 13th month in a row as there’s been a broad-based rise in the prices of food and fuel.