The Supreme Court of India, on July 15, has ordered the state government of Karnataka to give a clarification on the contempt of court petition filed by the current administrator, Sajjada Nasheen of the controversial pilgrimage site in Chikmagalur, Bababudangiri. The apex court has given the state government time till July 22, 2019 for the clarification. Given the current political scenario in the state, which government will give this clarification is the question. Due to the fact that Bababudangiri has been used by the Sangh Parivar as a communalising tool in the state, the possibility of formation of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government may yet again leave the issue hanging. The Sangh Parivar has on several occasions declared the shrine to be the Ayodhya of southern India. By saying so, they did not only ascribe a Hindu identity to the shrine, but post the Babri Masjid demolition, the Sangh also started disrupting the communal harmony in and around the shrine.
In 2018, Syed Ghouse Mohiuddin Shah Khadri had moved the Supreme Court alleging that the state government was not invested in settling the matters of ownership and was not maintaining the status quo on the question of religious identity of the shrine. The controversy around the shrine began in 1975 when the state government ordered to make the shrine a Wakf property. However, in 1988, the Commissioner for Religious and Charitable Endowments in Karnataka ordered that status quo be maintained. In 2008, the SC pronounced that the shrine is revered equally by the Hindus and Muslims, and ordered the status quo to be maintained. The court also upheld the rights of Shah Khadri regarding the inheritance.
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According to Bangalore Mirror, in March 2018, following the orders of the Supreme Court, the state cabinet had resolved that the shrine is the property of Religious Endowment Department and does not belong to the Wakf Board. However, the developments in and around the shrine in the name of Dattatreya Jayanthi celebrations by the Sangh Parivar added a communal angle to the situation. The recent developments show that the SC judgement for maintaining status quo was violated by the Sangh Parivar by vilifying Shah Kadri’s personal life and communalising the shrine by claiming that the said site is a Hindu shrine of Dattatreya. The SC, in its ruling on July 15, has also noted that the state government should explain why it has been stated that in case of any misadministration, the shrine should be notified as Hindu shrine.
According to a report in The Hindu, the committee formed by the state cabinet rejected the Endowment Commissioner’s recommendations filed before the Supreme Court on March 10, 2010. The commissioner had recommended the appointment of a Hindu priest to offer prayers in accordance with Agama. Citing the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, the committee opined that the Endowment Commissioner’s report was liable to be rejected. The Act prohibits a change in the religious character of any such place after August 15, 1947. However, it is still being imposed on Shah Khadri and he is not allowed to perform his ritualistic duties.
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Now, with an almost dysfunctional government in the state and a possibility of the BJP forming its government, one needs to wait and see how the situation will turn. As NewsClick had reported earlier, in December 2017, on the occasion of Datta Jayanti, C.T Ravi, the BJP MLA from the region, displayed some documents to the audience in the premises of the shrine and claimed that the records proved that the shrine was a Hindu place of worship. This, in turn, had provoked the “devotees” present there who tried to damage dome-like structures around the shrine. The BJP has stood strongly with the Sangh Parivar’s stand on the issue.