Why High Court Rejected Challenge To Hindu Prayers In Gyanvapi Cellar

Gyanvapi Case: The cellar, known as Vyas Ji Ka Tehkhana, was sealed in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid Demolition in 1992

Why High Court Rejected Challenge To Hindu Prayers In Gyanvapi Cellar

Prayers resumed at the Gyanvapi cellar after a district court order last month


The Mulayam Singh government's 1993 move to stop Hindu prayers in one of the cellars of Varanasi's Gyanvapi Mosque was "illegal", the Allahabad High Court said today, rejecting a petition challenging a district court order that allowed the prayers to resume after 30 years.

The cellar, known as Vyas Ji Ka Tehkhana, was sealed in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid Demolition in 1992. Soon after the demolition, then chief minister Kalyan Singh had resigned and his government was subsequently dismissed, paving the way for President's Rule. In the Assembly polls next year, a government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav took over. The state government then cited law and order concerns and the cellar temple was sealed.

The district court's order last month, allowing resumption of Hindu prayers in the cellar, came on a petition by Shailendra Pathak Vyas. Mr Vyas had then submitted that his family held prayers in the cellar since the British era.

"The worship and rituals which continued to be performed in the cellar by Vyas family till 1993 was stopped by illegal action of State without there being any order in writing," today's high court judgment said.

"Article 25 of the Constitution of India grants freedom of religion. The Vyas family who continued performance of religious worship and rituals in the cellar could not be denied access by oral order. A citizen right guaranteed under Article 25 cannot be taken away by arbitrary action of State," the order added.

The order said Shailendra Pathak Vyas has said the cellar has been in his family's possession since 1551 and had submitted documents to show how it was willed down the generations.

The court noted that a 1936 map filed by the then state government showed the Vyas ji ka tehkana. The court also noted that the Committee Of Management Anjuman Intezamia Masjid, which challenged the district court order, had failed to establish prima facie possession over the cellar.

"Failure of appellant to establish prima facie possession over the disputed property, and plaintiff succeeding in building up a strong prima facie case negating the stand of appellant, leads to undeniable situation that stopping worship and performance of rituals by the devotees in the cellar would be against their interest," the court said.

"Prima facie I find that act of the State Government since year 1993 restraining Vyas family from performing religious worship and rituals and also by the devotees was a continues wrong being perpetuated," Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal said in the order.

The court also noted that an attempt was made to malign the image of the lower court "on the ground that the officer concerned had passed the order on last day of working". It noted that the district court had already asked the administration to take control in an order dated January 17, 2024 and the January 31 order was only to correct an accidental slip.

"Considering the overall submissions advanced by the respective counsel of the parties and after analysing the material on record, I find that the appellant has not made out any case for interfering in the order dated 17.01.2024 and 31.01.2024 appointing the District Magistrate, Varanasi as Receiver and arranging to carry out worship and rituals in Vyas tehkhana (cellar) under his supervision by the priest, so appointed," the court said, noting that prayers in the cellar started on February 1.