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places of worship act: Places of Worship Act in focus as controversy over Gyanvapi simmers | India News – Times of India


NEW DELHI: The claim of some organisations that a Shivling was found inside the Gyanvapi Masjid complex in Varanasi has again ignited the debate around the over 30-year-old Places of Worship Act which was passed by Parliament in 1991.
While several leaders like AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi have claimed that the Places of Worship Act prohibits any change in the status of the Gyanvapi complex others including those those belonging to the ruling BJP have either pointed tro exceptions or suggested that the law could be changed.
Here is a look at the brief history of the law that is now in focus:
What is the Place of Worship Act, 1991:
The legislation was brought in by the P V Narasimha Rao government in 1991 to maintain status quo at places of worship.
The act declares that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day. The act aims to to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the day India got independence.
The act, however, made an exception in the case of the Ram Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid.
Among other exceptions is any place of worship which is an ancient and historical monument or an archaeological site or remains covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 or any other law for the time being in force. Some have contended that this provision is applicable in the case of Gyanvapi which could be considered an exception. Others, of course, disagree.
Fierce Debate in Parliament:
When the legislation was brought in the parliament in 1991, it had witnessed a fierce debate as the BJP had stoutly opposed it.
Interestingly, BJP leader Uma Bharati had made a reference to the Gyanvapi masjid when she spoke on the proposed legislation.
Bharati said that she had recently been to Varanasi and claimed that guides showed her the remnants of the temple where the mosque was built by Aurangzeb. Bharati asked why did the Mughal emporer allow the temple structure to exist below the Mosque. She claimed that it may have been done to humiliate those who prayed at the temple.
Bharati sought that all disputed religious places, whether temples or mosques, be restored to their original glory.
There were speakers including those from the Congress who opposed Bharati and BJP.
Comgress member P M Sayeed asserted that the legislation was being brought as it was a commitment made by his party in the election manifesto.
Sayeed referred to the Ram Janmabhumi issue and said the Congress wanted a negotiated settlement that respects the sentiments of both the communities. He said for other places the part was of the firm view that status quo should exist.
Sayeed accused the BJP of mixing religion with politics. Senior BJP leader Ram Naik hit back saying it was the Congress that mixed religion with politics in the Shah Bano case. Sayeed, however, asserted that his party’s actions were in line with its secular ethos.
Another senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar responded to Bharati’s comments about Gyanvapi and said that whenever he saw a mosque and a temple together, he considered it a sign of secularism. Among others senior leaders Ram Vilas Paswan, Somnath Chatterjee and Ghulam Nabi Azad supported the bill.
Azad termed the legislation a historic one in which former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had taken personal interest as it would strengthen the country.
The BJP members registered their dissent by walking out and the legislation was passed by both House of the parliament. A plea, however, was fild in the Supreme Court asking it examine the law’s validity.
Present debate:
The supposed discovery of a Shivlinga in the mosque, which others have called a fountain, has again brought the focus on the three decade old law which sought to maintain status quo with regard to contentious disputes.
AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi was at the forefront of those opposing the claims that a temple existed at the site as he claimed that such efforts were in violation of the places of worship act.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge also said that the status of all religious places has to be maintained under the places of worship act.
“Gyanvapi matter is in court. But status of all mosques, temples, other spaces of religious worship in 1947 had to be maintained as such. Thus a law too was made regarding it- Places of Worship Act 1991. A few are trying to divide people,” Kharge said.

BJP leader Amit Malviya, however, emphasised that there were exceptions under the act.
“Have the neo-lawyers read the list of exceptions to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991? The Congress and AIMIM are needlessly communalising a legal battle and whipping up sentiments.,” he said in a tweet.

Shivling found in #Gyanvapi premises is like a scorching mid day Sun in a peak summer. Now, in my opinion continuation of “Places of Worship Act, 1991″ is highly difficult…It will have to be repealed in near future. Stopping this from happening highly impossible!” said another BJP leader P Muralidhar Rao.





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