The ruling by a Varanasi district court on Monday that a petition by five women to worship Hindu deities within the premises of the Gyanvapi mosque could be heard by the courts was made despite the existence of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act – a law that specifically bars any changes to the religious character of a place in independent India.
The law was passed in 1991, at the height of the Babri Masjid dispute, to prevent similar communal tussles over places of worship. However, the Varanasi court in its order claimed that the law, by itself, did not prevent the women from filing their claims in a court of law.
Given the charged political and communal environment in which the dispute over the mosque complex is taking place, the Varanasi court’s order has set off a heated debate in legal circles. While some lawyers agree with the judge’s interpretation of the non-applicability of the Places of Worship Act at this initial stage, other experts argue that the court should have taken a wider view of the matter.
It is clear, they say, that such petitions are being used strategically for political ends and by admitting them, they end up undermining the…