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Could the survey at the Gyanvapi compound lead to its exemption from the Places of Worship Act? Read what the law says

Author: Shashank Bharadwaj
Publication: Opindia.com
Date: May 14, 2022
URL:       https://www.opindia.com/2022/05/explained-places-of-worship-act-1991-provisions-and-exemptions-in-the-law-gyanvapi-dispute/

If the survey finds the existence of a Hindu temple structure inside the Gyanvapi compound, which would naturally be more than 100 years old, it could be declared an ancient monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, and therefore, exempt from the Places of Worship Act.

The disputed structure of Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi, which stands on top of the original Kashi Vishwanath Mandir, is now at the centre of a major controversy. Last week, a Varanasi court had allowed a video survey of the disputed structure and had ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to investigate the architecture of the Gyanvapi Masjid.

Ever since the court ordered a survey inside the disputed structure, there have been severe protests from the usual entities such as the secular opposition forces and the Muslim groups. The survey team has met with opposition from local Muslims, who prevented them from entering the mosque.

However, the court-appointed advocate commissioner on Saturday resumed the survey and videography of Gyanvapi mosque premises, two days after the civil judge refused to change him and ordered him to submit the survey report by May 17.

While the team were able to survey the outer facade of the structure, they could not enter the structure for survey despite a court order, as the entrance to the mosque was blocked by the protesting Muslims.

In support of the Muslims, the opposition parties have descended to oppose any bid to survey the controversial Mughal structure. Hyderabad MP and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi termed the Gyanvapi Masjid verdict a “blatant violation” of the Places of Worship Act, 1991.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has also echoed the same sentiments claiming that PV Narasimha Rao’s government passed the Places of Worship Act with the only exception of Ram Janmabhoomi. He also claimed that all the other places of worship should remain in status as they are, and nobody should not change the status of places of worship as it will lead to a huge conflict.

Does the Places of Worship Act, 1991, really forbids any transformation in a location of worship’s religious character from what it was on August 15, 1947? Here is an explanation:

The Places of Worship Act, 1991
The Places of Worship Act, 1991 was passed by the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress regime to maintain the status-quo of the religious character of places of worship as it was in 1947, except in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which was already in court. It was also to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of such a place of worship as on that day.

The law was meant to pre-empt any fresh claims by any community on any holy place and their efforts to reclaim the buildings or property on which they once stood. The law was brought in to maintain the status quo, which the then government thought would aid in the long-term preservation of peaceful coexistence.

Main characteristics of the Act:
The Act states that a site of worship’s religious character must remain the same as it was on August 15, 1947. The law also states that nobody ever shall translate any religious denomination’s holy site into one of a distinct denomination or section.

The law also asserts that each and every lawsuit, appeal, or other proceedings pertaining to changing the character of the area of worship pending before any court or authority on August 15, 1947, will be terminated as soon as the legislation becomes effective, meaning there cannot be any further legal proceedings.

The act also 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.

However, there is an exception in the law. Under the Places of Worship Act, 1991, legal proceedings can be initiated if the change of status took place after the cut-off date of August 15, 1947. This saves judicial proceedings, lawsuits, and appeals concerning the possibility of status that occurred after the cut-off date.

Besides, the law exempts any place of worship, which is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

A suit that has been finally settled or disposed of or any dispute that has been settled by the parties or conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence before the Act commenced.

The current state of the disputed structure Gyanvapi Masjid and Shahi Idgah
A batch of petitions was filed in Varanasi court in 1991, seeking approval to worship inside the disputed Gyanvapi premises, where Kashi Vishwanath temple stood once.

In 2019, the appellants requested that the ASI conduct a survey of the Gyanvapi premises. However, in 2021, the Allahabad High Court ordered a stay on the ASI survey. The most recent controversy involves the routine worship of Shringar Gauri and other idols within the Gyanvapi complex.

In Mathura, the Allahabad High Court has restored a plea asking for the abolishment of Mathura’s Shahi Idgah Masjid, which is near a Krishna Mandir. On Friday, a plea was filed in the court of civil judge (senior division) in Mathura seeking the appointment of a commissioner to survey the structure, Shahi Idgah masjid, built on Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi.

On Thursday, the Allahabad high court also directed a Mathura court to dispose of the petitions claiming ownership of the entire land on which the Srikrishna Janmabhoomi stands and seeking to remove the adjoining Shahi Idgah Mosque within the four months.

So far, nine petitions are currently pending in the Mathura district courts with regard to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi-Shahi Idgah case. A Mathura court will pronounce its orders on one of the petitions on May 19.

If Hindu structures are found inside the Gyanvapi compound, can they be exempted from the Place of Worship Act?
One of the pertinent exemptions to the Places of Worship Act is if the site falls under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. This means that if the place of worship of any religion is regarded as an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site, it could be exempted from the ambit of the Places of Worship Act.

According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, an “ancient monument” is “any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith, which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than one hundred years.”

As per the above definition, any monument or place of worship that is more than 100 years old could be deemed as an ancient monument under the law, and thus automatically becomes exempt from the Places of Worship Act. Thus, if the ASI survey finds the existence of a Hindu temple structure inside the Gyanvapi compound, which would naturally be more than 100 years old, it could be declared as an ancient monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, and therefore, exempt from the Places of Worship Act.
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Author: Alka Dhupkar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 2, 2022
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/loudspeaker-lessons-for-india-from-a-maharashtra-village/articleshow/91259002.cms

The villagers of Barad have passed a resolution to stop the use of loudspeakers

Barad shows that strong-arm tactics are not needed to curb noise pollution; a simple matter of sitting across a table and discussing can do wonders

Barad is a biggish village in Nanded district of Maharashtra with a population of around 15,000. It is roughly 20km from Nanded city. Over time, the village has prospered and places of worship, among other buildings, have been renovated.

The village has 15 religious places — 12 Hindu temples and a place of worship each for Buddhist, Jain and Muslim communities. In some neighbourhoods, these religious places are in close proximity. No problem there.

It was only when these places started using loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, aartis and bhajans that the problem started. It became a veritable Tower of Babel — all noise and confusion.

“Since five in the morning, we used to play songs. In some places, one couldn’t hear the other’s songs or for that matter what was played in our temple,” says Suresh Deshmukh, a trustee of the local Hanuman temple.

For days on end, farmer Sharad Kawle’s 80-year-old grandmother couldn’t get a peaceful night’s sleep because of the rampant use of loudspeakers in the village.

But all this is in the past now. In charged times like these, Barad stands out as a model of communal harmony. Back in 2018, the villagers unanimously decided to remove loudspeakers from all religious places.

So, what happened in 2018?

According to deputy sarpanch Balasaheb Shankarao Deshmukh, sometime in December 2017, a Ganesh temple was using loudspeakers to broadcast maha aarti and a Buddha vihar nearby was playing religious songs. This went on till late at night.

“Groups from both sides started raising voices against each other, asking that the volume be lowered. Harmony in the village was completely disturbed,” he says. “Somehow we managed to cool tempers, but the tension simmered.”

But this wasn’t the only incident. A local school kept complaining about noise pollution to the Shiva temple trust and others in their area. The students couldn’t concentrate on studies because there was a kind of competition in using loudspeakers till late night and early mornings among all the religions.

The villagers were fed up. Some of them met after the tension escalated between Buddha and Ganpati followers. During a meeting with the local police, they discussed the proposal of removing all loudspeakers.

Thereafter, the villagers held a meeting with all the religious groups separately. Everybody accepted that the use of loudspeakers was a cause for concern and social discord. The religious trusts said if it was mandatory for all religious groups then they would also stop using loudspeakers.

After the consultations, a special gram sabha was called and a unanimous resolution was passed.

The villagers agreed to use sound boxes instead of loudspeakers. The only caveat: the volume of the sound box should be maintained at a pre-mandated level so the sound does not go beyond the walls of the holy place.

The gram panchayat has already installed around 40 small sound boxes for local announcements such as deaths, vaccination or other government programmes.

After the noise, peace

Yogesh Ratnparakhi, who runs Om Sai Coaching Classes in Barad, says, “In my centre, there are around 100 students and I can’t tell you how happy we all are that the loudspeakers have finally stopped. Earlier, students would use unending noise as an excuse not to study. Now, they properly focus on studies.”

Kiran Mahajan, a trustee of Chandra Prabhu Digambar Jain temple, says, “Ours is a private temple that is open to the public. We too had installed a loudspeaker because others installed it too. But after the removal of loudspeakers, we didn’t lose any devotees. Loudspeakers actually don’t matter.”

Sharad Kawle, the farmer, says, “Many of us in this village are followers of the Varkari bhakti movement. I believe that your religious activity should not disturb others. Keep it personal, so we all supported this proposal.”

His views are echoed by Sardar Sattar Khan Pathan of Jama Masjid in Barad. “We respect festivals of all communities. The kind of communal harmony we have maintained would not have been possible with loudspeakers at each religious place in the village.”

According to Vasant Lalme, a trustee of the Shiva temple, loudspeakers are not essential for singing bhajans or kirtans. “Devotion is a very personal feeling. It can be attained without loudspeakers. We have proved it.”

Model village

Deputy sarpanch Deshmukh, however, is disappointed that his village has not been given due recognition for the innovative solution to the menace of unchecked loudspeakers. The village doesn’t encourage the use of loudspeakers even for political rallies, weddings or other celebrations.

In other ways, too, Barad can be touted as a model village. It has received state awards for cleanliness and drinking water distribution management, open defecation-free status, success of ‘tanta mukti’ yojana (a scheme to clear local disputes at the village level) and other achievements.

The village has 20 CCTV cameras, which have helped curb theft, sexual harassment and other crimes. The village has developed a proper watershed system; a dormitory near a rural hospital is a unique feature of the village. It has also built a hostel for girl students, it has a zilla parishad school, multiple anganwadis, among other facilities.

As the noise over the use of loudspeakers at religious places grows louder and various state governments are using strong-arm tactics, perhaps it is Barad’s use of consultation that stands out more than its other achievements.