Copy-Paste Pleas Coordinated by Right-wing Lawyers: Analysis of Petitions Seeking Gyanvapi Mosque Demolition
Image credit: The Hindu
Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)/New Delhi: “How many petitions have so far been filed?" asked this reporter. "We have now stopped counting,” responded a visibly annoyed Rayees Ahmad Ansari, one of the lawyers of the Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, which manages the Gyanvapi mosque at Varanasi.
He had just returned to his seat in the Varanasi District and Sessions Court premise after receiving the copy of a new petition, seeking permission to worship Lord Adi Vishweshwar, Goddess Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesh, Nandi (the bull carrier of Lord Shiva) and invisible gods and goddess inside and around the premises of the mosque.
District and Sessions Court, Varanasi.
With the filing of the latest suit on May 31 by Vishwa Hindu Maha Samiti (a Varanasi-based Right-wing organisation), the total number of litigations has gone up to 17. The common prayers in all applications are that the mosque be handed over to Hindus as a “Shivling” has purportedly been found on the mosque premises during the survey of court commissioners and Muslims be barred from entering the contentious area. All the pleas claim that the mosque has been built on the site of an ancient Shiva temple.
From civil courts in the district to the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court, all are simultaneously hearing cases related to the dispute. Of the 12 matters being considered by lower courts in Varanasi, eight are pending before Civil Judge (Senior Division) Mahendra Pandey and one matter is being heard by District Judge Dr Ajay Kumar Vishevesh — who has been directed by the Supreme Court to first decide on the admissibility of the suit filed under the Order VII, Rule 11 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) before proceeding with the case on merits.
In addition, a fast-track court has been tasked with hearing two fresh pleas filed for the mosque premises to be handed over to Hindus who should also be allowed to pray at the purported “Shivling”. The matters are adjourned for hearing on July 8. The district judge court is also hearing a review petition, challenging the jurisdiction of the civil judge to hear such cases.
At least four petitions are pending before the high court and one special leave petition before the Supreme Court.
“In violation of Section 10 of the CPC, 1908, that bars courts from entertaining petitions with the same cause of actions and prayers, the civil judge is allowing all mischievous plaints,” alleged Advocate Mumtaz Ahmad, another lawyer of the mosque panel, while talking to NewsClick.
Adv Rayees, Adv Mumtaz and the team.
The said section of the CPC is aimed at stopping multiple and parallel proceedings in the same subject matter to avoid conflicting decisions. Courts are empowered under Section 151 of the CPC to stay proceedings to prevent abuse of the process of law.
The admissions, opine legal experts, are also in violation of The Places of Worship Act, 1991, which forbids courts from allowing suits that question the religious character of a place as it existed on August 15, 1947.
“Same group of people are behind the slew of petitions,” he alleged, adding that “the intention is loud and clear — overburden the lawyers representing the mosque’s managing committee so that they commit mistakes, create a public discourse in favour of plaintiffs, and pressure the judiciary to place faith over the law”. “And all these are evident if you see the frenzied media coverage of the issues,” he added.
Granting “urgent relief”, the court has even exempted the petitioners from serving a 60-day notice period for their case to be filed and transferred to a fast-track court in Varanasi.
As NewsClick accessed eight of the new petitions filed over the past year, it turned out that they are cut-copy-paste suits with the same cause of actions and the relief sought in the name of different gods. The petitioners are seeking the demolition of the Mughal-era mosque (which is alleged to have been built by Mughal ruler Aurangzeb following the demolition of a Shiva temple that once stood there in 1669). All the pleas are reclaiming the plot for Hindus.
The civil suits are — 245/2021 (Lucknow-based Satyam Tripathi and Ashish Kumar Shukla and Varanasi-based Pawan Kumar Pathak Vs Union of India and others), 350/2021 (Goddess Maa Shringar Gauri through next friend and devotee Ranjana Agnihotri and Asthan Lord Adi Visheshwar through next friend and devotee Jitender Singh ‘Vishen’ and others Vs the Union Of India Through its Secretary and others), 358/2021 (Maa Ganga, The Devotee of lord Adi Visheshwar Vs Union of India and others), 693/2021 (Rakhi Singh and others Vs Union of India and others), 761/2021 (Sadhwi Poornamba and others Vs State of UP through Collector and others), 839/2021 (Lord Shri Aadi Visheshwar Jyotirlinga and others Vs UP Sunni Central Waqf Board through chairperson and others), 840/2021 (Shri Nandiji Maharaj and another Vs U.P. Sunni Central Waqf Board and another), 712/2022 (Bhagwan Aadi Vishweshwar Viraajmanm the Swayambhu emerged at Kashi Vs State of U.P.), matters under Article 227, No. 3562 of 2021 (U.P. Sunni Central Waqf Board versus Ancient idol of Swayambhu Lord Vishweshwar) and SPL(C) 9388/2022 (Committee of Management, Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Varanasi versus Rakhi Singh and others).
The description of historical events, the validity of the Places of Worship Act, submissions on Article 13(1) and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, the sections on if Waqf was ever created for the mosque and the civil suit the plaintiffs cite (1937 Deen Mohammad case), among others are identical in each petition.
Even the references to holy scriptures like extracts of Shri Skand Puran, Siva Mahapuran and Upanishad are identical in all petitions. Only in a few petitions, the prayers are differently worded.
“It’s being done to harass us. They are looking for any opportunity. If we commit any mistake in any case, they will take advantage of it. And it is their intention,” said Ansari.
‘WELL-THOUGHT-OUT LEGAL STRATEGY’
Calling it part of a “well thought out legal strategy”, two lawyers representing different petitioners, NewsClick spoke to, claimed on strict condition of anonymity, “It’s not all, more such pleas are yet to be filed.”
Sporting thick streaks of sandal powder on his forehead with a large vermilion dot, one of them said with a smile on his face, “The idea is to obtain a decree; how many petitions will they defeat in court? It is a well-settled law that multiple petitions can be filed by different petitioners.”
Sitting under a tin shed close to the portico of the District and Sessions Court, Ahmad said a small team of five lawyers are opposing the suits with “full force” with “very limited resources”.
“Against the battery of senior lawyers representing different petitioners, we are a handful of people who are giving their best. We are confident that the truth will emerge victorious one day,” he added.
Without mentioning anyone’s name, he said, “The pleas are centrally drafted with an aim to overburden us.”
“It is surprising that even the court is allowing them despite the fact that the Supreme Court in its verdict in 2019 on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute had reiterated, ‘In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future’.”
SAME GROUP BEHIND ALL PLEAS?
The cases seem to be well-coordinated by a group of people who have hired a network of senior lawyers.
Sohan Lal Arya, a former vice president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), claimed he pursued the five Hindu women who filed a writ petition to pray to “Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Hanuman, Lord Ganesh, and other visible and invisible deities inside the old temple complex”, which is the Gyanvapi mosque.
Sohal Lal Arya.
The man in his early 70s said that he met with 35 women before shortlisting the five Hindu women litigants, who also include his wife Laxmi Devi.
“I wanted the litigants to be housewives with children, who were traditional and religious,” he said, adding that “the women were earlier barely able to speak, but they are now smartly talking to the media”.
“It was my training that made them vocal and outspoken. I briefed them, wrote statements for them which they memorised,” he claimed.
Arya, who grew up in the shakhas of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), proudly talked about participating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the brick he had brought back from its ruins in Ayodhya and his three-decade-long struggle to get the Gyanvapi demolished.
Another man who is involved in the cases is Gonda-based Jitendra Singh ‘Bisen’, president of an organisation called the Vishwa Vedic Sanatan Sangh.
He is a petitioner himself in one case, while his wife Kiran Singh is the petitioner in another petition filed on May 24. It is pending before a Varanasi fast track court. His niece, Rakhi Singh, is the petitioner in the case where the advocate commissioner’s survey was ordered.
In addition, he claimed his aides are involved in other cases. He further claimed he has other petitioners to file cases.
Apart from Arya and Bisen, Hari Shankar Jain and his son Vishnu Jain are among the lawyers who pushed several cases in this dispute. The Jains are associated with several Hindutva organisations. However, they have been removed by the petitioners as their counsels after the video clips of the survey conducted by court commissioners were leaked to the media minutes after four of the five women petitioners gave an undertaking before the court that they would not reveal it to the press
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