Mosque Moves SC to Intervene in PIL Challenging Places of Worship Act

Aligarh: The caretaker of Teelay Waali Masjid in Lucknow, Wasif Hasan, has filed an application for intervention in the public interest litigation (PIL) moved before the Supreme Court, challenging sections of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. 

While the PIL had been filed by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, Hasan represents the Lucknow mosque against which there is a suit pending before a Lucknow court on the grounds that it was once allegedly the site of a temple. 

Hasan accused BJP of trying to create a dispute between communities on the basis of religion. “After the Ayodhya verdict was given, Muslims across India showed patience and accepted it. We thought that now there will be no more fights. I believe that this PIL is a way to cause a disturbance in the nation again,” Hasan told The Wire. 

Details of the PIL

BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay had filed a PIL challenging Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 on the grounds that these sections are violative of Article 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion), 26, and 29 (protection of interests of minorities) of the Indian constitution. 

It also violates the principles of secularism enshrined in the constitution, Upadhyay alleged. 

In the PIL, Upadhyay had challenged the cut-off date of August 15, 1947 specified in the said Act as irrational and arbitrary, and said that the Centre had barred the remedies against illegal encroachment of places of worship and pilgrimages of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs, which he claimed was carried out by “fundamentalist barbaric invaders and lawbreakers”. 

Upadhyay had said that the declaration by the Centre that the religious character of places of worship as they existed on August 15, 1947 shall continue has resulted in delivering a serious jolt to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. 

The applicant had also alleged that the members of other faiths have occupied those places taking advantage of the pitiable conditions of Hindus during Mughal and British rule. 

The cut-off date

The PIL had said that the Centre has no legislative competence to fix the retrospective cut off date as August 15, 1947.  

“Centre by making impugned provisions in 1991 has created arbitrary irrational retrospective cutoff date, declared that character of places of worship and pilgrimage shall be maintained as it was on 15/8/1947 and no suit or proceeding shall lie in Court in respect of the dispute against the encroachment done by barbaric fundamentalist invaders and such proceeding shall stand abated,” it reads.

It also said that the Centre must respect International Conventions which state that citizens have a right to restore damaged places, which were done when India remained under slavery from 1192 to 1947. The retrospective cutoff-date AUgust 15, 1947 was fixed to legalise the “illegal” acts of barbaric invaders and foreign rulers, the PIL added. 

File photo of Babri Masjid. Credit: PTI

File photo of Babri Masjid. Photo: PTI

Further, it said, “The Centre has barred the remedies against illegal encroachment on the places of worship and pilgrimages and Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs cannot file suit or approach (the) High Court. Hence, won’t be able to restore their places of worship and pilgrimage including Temples, Endowments, Mutts etc from hoodlums and illegal barbaric acts of the invaders will continue in perpetuity.”

The petition had also said that it is a historical fact that in 1192, “invader” Muhammad Gori established Islamic rule after defeating Prithviraj Chauhan. The citizens have the right to restore past glory and nullify the signs of slavery and atrocities committed by invaders, it added.

BJP leader’s PIL is anti-Muslim: Hasan  

Hasan’s application seeking intervention said that the PIL by the BJP leader is a “mischievous” one, which aims to isolate the Muslim community as a separate category from other major religious communities in India. 

“The language of the petition is shocking. Petitioner has sought to set up an allegedly factual case of fundamentalist barbarians coming to India and destroying places of worship without providing any facts, sources or setting up a case that any such place of worship has indeed been destroyed,” Hasan’s application said.

It added that by repeatedly invoking the rights of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and deliberately excluding Muslims as well as Christians, the petitioner is trying to create a “false” narrative that Muslims and Christians are invaders and less a part of this country than other communities.

It also said that by calling the August 15, 1947 cut-off date an arbitrary one, the petitioner is negating the importance of Indian independence and the foundation of the modern, secular state of India.

‘Ayodhya verdict under a cloud’ 

The Supreme Court in the Ayodhya judgment had upheld the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 as protecting one of the basic features of the constitution – secularism. 

“In seeking what is essentially overruling of this part of the Ayodhya judgment, the entire underlying matrix of facts gets disturbed leaving the Ayodhya judgment open to challenge,” Sarim Naved, an advocate based in Delhi who is counsel for the applicant, told The Wire.

“The Ayodhya judgment has attained finality with all parties accepting it with grace. The Indo Islamic Cultural Foundation, the trust formed for the management of the five-acre land awarded by the Supreme Court to the Muslims, has started its work on the understanding that the Ayodhya judgment is final including that part which upholds the Places of Worship Act as final and settled. Any unsettling of this finality would bring everything into doubt,” he added.

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