The Varanasi district court’s order in the Gyanvapi mosque case will take the country back to the 1980s and 1990s, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi said on Monday.

Owaisi made the statement at a press conference hours after the court held that a civil suit by Hindu plaintiffs seeking the right to pray inside the Gyanvapi mosque premises is maintainable and can be heard further.

The Hyderabad MP said that the district court’s order will have a destabilising effect and several other similar demands will crop up.

“If this happens, the very purpose of the 1991 law [Places of Worship Act] will have failed,” he told mediapersons. “The 1991 Act was created so that such conflicts can permanently end. But after today order, litigation will begin on all these matters.”

Owaisi said that he hoped that the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which manages the mosque, will file an appeal against the district court’s order.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board also said that the Varanasi court’s order was disappointing and saddening.

“...People who want to spread hatred in the country and who do not care about the country’s unity have brought up the matter regarding the Gyanvapi mosque,” the board’s general secretary Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani said. “It is unfortunate that the local district court ignored the 1991 Act and accepted the petition [of the Hindu litigants].”

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 stipulates that the “religious character” of holy places would remain the same as it was on August 15, 1947, the day of Independence. The only exception to the law is the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

The AIMPLB said that the court order will “harm social goodwill, strengthen extremism and violence and create conflicts in cities”. Rahmani urged the Centre to strictly implement the Places of Worship Act, and not create a situation that would lead minorities to believe that all doors of justice have been closed for them.

On the other hand, several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders hailed the district court’s decision. Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya said in a tweet: “Kashi and Mathura are witnessing a churn.”

Maurya appeared to have been referring to an ongoing legal dispute about the Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura. A group of Hindu plaintiffs have claimed that the mosque was built over the birthplace of the deity Krishna. They have staked claim over 13.37 acres of land around the mosque.

BJP leader Uma Bharti welcomed the court verdict but urged both Hindus and Muslims not to “insult each other” over such disputes, ANI reported.

“I had said that we wouldn’t be able to live peacefully without solving the problems relating to these three places [Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi] because these places remind us of the attacks by the invaders,” she said.

Bharti urged both Hindus and Muslims to be happy “about the fact that your petitions were considered worth hearing”.

The Gyanvapi case

Five Hindu women have claimed that an image of the deity Shringar Gauri exists at the mosque and sought permission to offer daily prayers there.

On August 24, District Judge AK Vishvesha had reserved his order on the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee’s application challenging the maintainability of the civil suit.

The committee filed the application under Order 7 Rule 11 of the Code of Civil Procedure. According to the order, a petition can be dismissed if it does not show a cause of action or is barred by law.

On Monday, the court held that the 1991 law cannot bar the plaintiffs from worshipping at the disputed site as they said that they had been offering prayers even after August 15, 1947. The court also noted that the plaintiffs have not demanded that the place of worship be converted from a mosque to a temple.

In May, a Varanasi civil court had ordered a video survey of the Gyanvapi mosque despite objections expressed by Muslim litigants. The mosque committee had then moved the Supreme Court, challenging the trial court’s order to conduct the survey.

The survey report stated that an oval object had been found inside a tank at the mosque. Hindu petitioners claimed the object is a shivling, a symbolic representation of the Hindu deity Shiva. Muslims, however, say that it is actually a fountain.

On May 16, the civil court ordered district officials to seal the wazu khana, or ablution tank, in the mosque. The court had passed the order even before receiving the report of the survey.