Claims that Hindu idols and remains are present at Varanasi's Gyanvapi mosque will be heard by a "more experienced" judge in Uttar Pradesh, the Supreme Court ordered today, moving it out of the court hearing it so far. It would be "better if a more seasoned hand hears the case", said the judges, stressing on the need for "a healing touch and a sense of balance".
"Keeping the complexity and sensitivity of the matter in view, the civil suit before the civil judge in Varanasi shall be heard before a senior and experienced judicial officer of the UP judicial service," the Supreme Court ruled.
It would be "better if a more seasoned hand" hears the case, a three-judge bench said.
The "need for fraternity between communities and the need for peace is topmost" for the court, said the judges during arguments.
Varanasi's seniormost judge will now hear the petition of five Hindu women requesting permission to worship what they claim are Hindu idols at the Gyanvapi mosque, which stands next to the iconic Kashi Vishwanath temple in one of India's oldest and holiest cities.
The report of a video survey ordered by the civil judge was submitted yesterday in three sealed boxes and a chip with hundreds of video clips and photographs.
The filming inside the centuries old mosque was challenged by the Gyanvapi mosque committee before the Supreme Court. The Muslim petitioners said the filming goes against the Places of Worship Act of 1991, which maintains the religious status of any place of worship as of August 15, 1947. "Such petitions and sealing of mosques will lead to public mischief and communal disharmony, will affect mosques across the country," argued the mosque committee.
The Hindu petitioners said the petition should be scrapped.
The Supreme Court also took a stern view of "selective leaks" to the press and said they must stop. This comes after Hindu petitioners released details of the mosque filming report just hours after it was handed over to a Varanasi court in a sealed cover on Thursday.
Earlier, the officer who led the video survey was sacked over leaks allegedly by his "personal cameraperson". On the last day of filming, reports emerged of officials finding a "Shivling" in a pond within the mosque complex used for "Wazoo" or purification rituals before Muslim prayers.
"Selective leaks must stop. Things being leaked into the press. It was to be submitted in court. The court has to open it," Justice DY Chandrachud said.
The Supreme Court extended its interim order on protecting the "Shivling" area without stopping Muslims from praying at the mosque. It also asked the city to make arrangements for the Wazoo ritual, with the pond currently sealed.
"We need a sense of balance and calm on the ground. We need a degree of healing touch. We are on a joint mission for preserving a sense of balance in the country," Justice Chandrachud said.
"The district Judge will be hearing both the pleas now. The plea by Hindus seeking a right to worship in the area of the mosque which has the deity, as well as the petition from the Muslim side that opposes our plea and the videographic survey," said Vishnu Shankar Jain, the lawyer for the Hindus, after the ruling.
This morning, ahead of Friday prayers at Gyanvapi, the mosque committee sent out an appeal asking people not to come in large numbers because there were no arrangements for Wazoo. The mosque committee members stood outside and diverted devotees to smaller mosques.