If there is one message that emanates from the almost identically-worded suits filed against Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque, it is this: little has changed in the Hindu Right’s modus operandi since 1950, when the first suit was filed in Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid case. The two cases may be separated by over seven decades, but the petitions filed against the two mosques seem to originate from the same script designed to achieve the same objective.
Recently, Article 14 reported on how eight Hindu petitions claiming the right to pray inside the Gyanvapi mosque have a clear intention—to overwhelm Muslim defendants and force the court to give faith a priority over law. It pointed out that all of them are cut-and-paste suits with minor differences, filed in the name of different petitioners. The petitioners, the report states, include the far-right editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, Suresh Chavhanke, and four Hindu women from Varanasi “fronting for a former member of the Hindu fundamentalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad.”
The petitions “call for decrees for Hindus to pray inside the mosque and injunctions against Muslims from interfering with the construction of a new temple, destroying deities, and from using the complex.” On 12 September, a Varanasi court upheld the maintainability of these petitions. This can rekindle the debate on the consequences of changing the character of a religious place after 15 August 1947, which had received some closure in the Ayodhya judgment of 2019.
The petitions in the Gyanvapi mosque case follow a similar pattern I had witnessed while reporting on the Babri Masjid case. After an idol of the Hindu deity Ram was planted under the central dome of Babri Masjid in December 1949, a slew of suits and affidavits were filed by Hindu parties to claim a right over the land on which the mosque stood. Until then, no one had sought the right to pray inside the mosque. One suit had previously sought permission to construct a temple at Ram Chabutara, a raised platform in the outer courtyard close to the mosque, calling it the birth place of Ram. Planting the idol, however, changed the game, marking the beginning of a long-drawn legal battle over the control of the mosque.