A local court in Varanasi on May 12 is expected to decide if an advocate commissioner appointed by it to videograph a ‘Hindu site’ outside the wall of the Gyanvapi Masjid would be allowed to enter the tehkhana (cellar) of the mosque in the highly-sensitive complex for inspection.
The court would also decide if the advocate commissioner, Ajay Kumar Mishra, would be replaced after the caretakers of the Gyanvapi Masjid alleged that he was acting in a “biased” manner while conducting the videographic inspection.
The video inspection was halted on the first day after the mosque committee objected to the demand by the Hindu plaintiffs that the advocate commissioner be allowed inside the mosque and its cellar.
Civil judge (senior division) Ravi Kumar Diwakar had appointed the court commissioner after five women plaintiffs linked to a right-wing group Vishwa Vedic Sanatan Sangh in April filed a suit declaring that they were entitled to have daily darshan, pooja and perform all the rituals of Maa Shringar Gauri, Lord Ganesh, Lord Hanuman and other “visible and invisible deities within the old temple complex” situated at settlement plot no 9130 in the Dashwamedh area.
They had also demanded that an advocate commissioner conduct a local inspection of the site and ascertain the existence of the image of deities Maa Shringar Gauri and others at the plot.
While the court order did not specifically state if the inspection would include videography inside the Gyanvapi Masjid and its cellar, its caretakers asserted that they objected to any videography inside the mosque and inside the barricades. The Hindu plaintiffs then filed an application pleading the court to specify the areas of inspection along with the duration of the process.
Shivam Gaur, a lawyer for the Hindu plaintiffs, told The Hindu they wanted a clarification specifically “if the tehkhana would be opened and inspection allowed inside it.”
The plaintiffs had also demanded that the entire process of videography be coordinated by the State government and be completed soon.
Another lawyer for the Hindu plaintiffs, briefing journalists outside the court in Varanasi, said a video recording of the site would make things clear. “Let all the evidence come out. If the evidence point to a mosque, we will back out. If the evidence point to a temple, you [mosque committee] back out,” said the lawyer.
Sayid Yasin, joint secretary of the Anjuman Intejamia Masajid, the caretaker of the mosque, said their objection was that the court commissioner should not be allowed to enter the mosque and its barricades.
Mr. Yasin said that though this was due to religious beliefs — no non-Muslim had gone to the cellar before, he said — more importantly, an inspection of the mosque was not necessary in the case.
“Why go inside the mosque? When the case is about Shringar Gauri? What does Shringar Gauri have to do with the mosque or the barricades? They are quite apart, “ he said.
Mr. Yasin reiterated the mosque committee allegation that the advocate commissioner was not acting impartial as mandated by his position.
“When it was nowhere mentioned in the order [that the inspection team would enter the mosque], why insist on entering the mosque,” he asked.
In a written complaint to the court, the mosque committee on May 7 said the advocate commissioner not only dismissed their plea for identification of the plot 9130 before the inspection but also allegedly used his fingers to measure some stones of a chabutra-type structure near the barricading outside the western wall of the mosque and scrap the earth between the stones.
This was beyond his mandate of video inspection and amounted to altering the objects at the site, the mosque committee said.