Supreme Court to Hear Petitions Against the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions), 1991

The Places of Worship Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state. It reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions

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The Hindutva organisations and their political organ Bharatiya Janata Party were the mastermind behind the infamous demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya; they now seem to be conspiring to demolish all the historical mosques in the country. The Supreme Court has given its assent to a petition that was filed to re-examine the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions),1991. This Act was passed in 1991 to prevent any communal politics similar to the one that was motivated by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1991. By accepting this petition on March 12, 2021 the Apex Court seems to have given a go to the Hindutva conspiracy to dismantle the communal harmony. Not stopping here the Court has sent a notice to a government of BJP- a party which was the main architect of the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Places Of Worship Act: A Secular Sword and Shield 

The Hindu right party BJP and its ideological parent ‘Sangh Parivar’ in 1990 had conspired to demolish Babri Masjid in the name of Ramjanmabhoomi. They had misused the religious believes and sentiments of the Hindus. The Indian Parliament on the other hand with an assent of all the political parties except that of the BJP had passed Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions),1991. According to the Section 4 of this Act, 

  1. It is hereby declared that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day.

  2. Bar of conversion of places of worship:  No person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination or any section thereof into a place of worship of a different section of the same religious denomination or of a different religious denomination or any section thereof. 

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Section 6 of this Act recognises such a conversion as an offence,

Punishment for contravention of section 3. Whoever contravenes the provisions of section 3 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Other than these sections, according to Section 4 (2) no Courts are allowed to take up cases regarding these conversions. The Courts in the country, if have taken up such cases before the Act was passed, are to hear such cases within the framework set by the Act. Based on the then prevalent communalism the parliament introduced Section 5 which says that the Act isn’t limited to the Babri masjid- Ram Janmabhoomi controversy. 

The Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions) of 1991 at the outset had set forth ways to control the communalising efforts of the Hindutva organisations that claimed to cleanse India of all the non Hindu worshiping places. The legal fight of the BabaBudangiri Dargah in Karnataka is also based on this very Act. Several non Hindu shrines across the country including the Gyan Vyapi mosque in Banaras are currently protected under the aegis of this Act. 

In 2019 a five judge bench in a ruling, despite of lack of evidence, permitted to construct the Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid once stood. This ruling of the Court, permitting those who were responsible for the demolition of the mosque to construct the temple was both unconstitutional and a historical blunder. However, this ruling had upheld the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions)- 1991 in its entirety and based on this Act the Court had condemned the demolition of the Babri Mosque.  

This constitutional bench upholding the validity of this Act, in the paragraph 83 of the judgement, noted,

Historical blunders cannot be resolved by taking the law into hand. The parliament in the Act has declared that the historical blunders cannot be misused to suppress the present and future. 

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The 1991 Act represents the commitment to the Constitution: The Supreme Court

In the paragraph 82 of the same judgement the bench observes that the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions)- 1991- upholds and protects the fundamental Constitutional values. The Court, in the page 124 of the judgement notes, 

The Places of Worship Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state. It reflects the commitment of India to the equality of all religions. Above all, the Places of Worship Act is an affirmation of the solemn duty which was cast upon the State to preserve and protect the equality of all faiths as an essential constitutional value, a norm which has the status of being a basic feature of the Constitution. There is a purpose underlying the enactment of the Places of Worship Act. The law speaks to our history and to the future of the nation. Cognizant as we are of our history and of the need for the nation to confront it, Independence was a watershed moment to heal the wounds of the past. Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. 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. 

It is important to note that the current Chief Justice of India, Bobde was one of the five judges in the constitutional Bench that delivered this historic judgement. 

Boneless tongue of ‘Sangh Parivar’ and Spineless Supreme Court 

The chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohan Bhagawat and the chief of the BJP during the demolition of the Babri Masjid, had said that the construction of Ram mandir was part of the religious beliefs of the Hindu majority in the country. They had also noted that muslims in the country must understand this and co-operate and upon doing so non of the muslim shrines would be touched. However Bhagwat said something else all together on the very day of Ram Mandir bhumi  pujan. He declared that the Sangh Parivar would act according to the aspirations of the people. Saying so, he had cautioned the religious minorities about the days to come. 

Prior to this statement of Bhagawat, an organisation called ‘Vishwa Bhadra Pujari Purohit Mahasangh’ had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding the withdrawal of  the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions),1991 (WP (Civil) 559/2020). In its petition the organisation had said that the Act facilitates the continuation of the historical injustice faced by the Hindus and the Act is a violation of the fundamental rights of Hindus. 

The Supreme Court hadn’t taken any measures regarding this particular petition. However the Supreme Court will now be hearing a petition filed on March 12, 2021 by Ashwin Kumar Upadhyay of BJP. This petition also demands the withdrawal of the Act and argues that the sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act violates fundamental freedom and right of the Hindus. 

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According to this petition filed by Ashwin Kumar Upadhyay, 

The foreign invaders of India between A D 1192 – 1947 have destroyed the Hindu places of worship and also occupied them by using their military power. The provisions in the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions), 1991 violates India’s cultural and religious traditions. 

This Act has excluded the birthplace of Ram but not of Krishna. What about those who are fighting to restore the sanctity of the birthplace of Krishna? Other than this, several pilgrim centres of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, before 1947 were under the control of the British. This Act bars remedy against the encroachment made of these shrines. This Act violates the fundamental right to worship, of these communities. 

By filing this petition the Sangh Parivar is using the Supreme Court which for the sake of mainting communal harmony and peace in the country, refused to punish the culprits for demolishing the Babri Masjid. The Hindutva forces in the country are using the very court that paved the way for the construction of Ram Mandir, to facilitate communal tension in the country. On one hand we have RSS which has completely turned away from its initial argument and on the other hand we have several appendages of the outfit that seems to have decided to carry out their communal tasks with the blessings of the Court. 

Shocking it is to see the Supreme Court being ready to listen to these petitions that oppose the Court’s words on the Places Of Worship Act (Special Provisions), 1991.    

First published in Vartaabharati and translated by Yogesh S

The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s alone. 



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April 2024



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