New Delhi September 12 2022: An Indian court said it will examine a petition from a group of Hindu women seeking the right to pray inside a mosque in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency in northern India. The lawsuit could become a religious flash-point between majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
The Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, one of Hinduism’s holiest cities on the banks of the Ganges river, became the site of a dispute after Hindu groups claimed that symbols, linked to the god Shiva, were found inside the complex. Muslim groups denied this and had asked that the petition be dismissed.
On Monday, the court ruled the case to be “maintainable”, Vishnu Shankar Jain, a lawyer for the Hindu group, told reporters in Varanasi. The ruling implies that the court found the issue within its jurisdiction. The court will hear arguments on Sept. 22 on whether Hindus can be allowed to worship idols purportedly found inside the mosque.
The ruling can be challenged in a higher court, all the way up to India’s Supreme Court. A final ruling can take years, sometime even decades as the case makes its way through the already over-burdened legal system.
The ruling, a boost for Hindu nationalist groups, is reminiscent of the dispute over a controversial mosque in Ayodhya, another holy city for Hindus in the state of Uttar Pradesh. A 1986 court order opened that 16th-century mosque for worship by Hindus.
While the legal process took decades, the communally-polarizing issue resulted in deadly riots after the mosque was razed to the ground in 1992 by right-wing Hindu groups with links to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. India’s Supreme Court in 2019 handed over the disputed site to Hindu groups. Modi laid the foundation stone of a new Hindu temple on the site in August 2020.
In the Gyanvapi case, the Muslim side had urged the court to not entertain the petition as a law enacted after the Ayodhya dispute barred changing the religious nature of a place of worship.
Hindus make up more than 80% of India’s nearly 1.4 billion population, while Muslims are about 14%. While the two communities have lived largely peacefully in the South Asian nation, deadly religious riots have erupted from time to time.
The Gyanvapi mosque is one of several religious sites that conservative Hindu groups claim were built over Hindu structures.