Qutub Minar is not a place of worship, nor can it be revived as one under the laws of the land, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) told a Delhi court, which reserved its order for June 9 on pleas seeking to restore the right to worship for Hindus and Jains at the Quwwat-Ul-Islam mosque in the monument’s premises.
While taking on record ASI’s objections to the lawsuits, the Delhi court wondered whether the petitioners could today assert any legal or fundamental right to worship, assuming 27 temples existed about 800 years back.
“Now, you want this monument to be turned into a temple, calling it restoration. My question is, how would you claim that the plaintiffs have a legal right assuming it existed about 800 years back? On a lighter note, the deity has survived for the last 800 years without worship. Let him survive like that,” additional district judge Nikhil Chopra told advocate Hari Shankar Jain, who is one of the petitioners in the case.
The judge sought a legal argument to substantiate whether there is any denial of a right to the petitioners if a status quo exists in the Qutub Minar complex.
“Even if assuming there is an admission that it (Hindu and Jain religious structures) was demolished and the structure was raised at that spot…assuming it wasn’t used by Muslims as a mosque, the question which is more important is can you now claim it to be restored on what basis?” the court asked.
The arguments before the additional district judge followed an affidavit filed by ASI, which opposed the pleas for the revival of worship, adding that no community has worshipped at Qutub Minar or anywhere inside the complex since the time it has been a protected monument.
“Fundamental right cannot be availed in violation of any status of the land. The basic principle of protection/conservation is not to allow starting of any new practice in a monument declared and notified as a protected one,” the ASI told the court.
According to the affidavit, Qutub Minar has been a protected monument since 1914, and therefore, it comes under the protection of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASR) Act, 1958.
ASI’s reply was filed in response to a petition filed by advocates Hari Shankar Jain and Ranjana Agnihotri on behalf of Jain tirthankar Rishabh Dev and Hindu god Vishnu. The petition cited a short history purportedly displayed by ASI which, according to the plea, narrates how 27 temples were demolished by Qutbuddin Aibak, a general in Mohamad Ghori’s army, and the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque was raised by reusing the material.
The petitioner urged the court to direct the Centre to create a trust for managing the temples that should be restored at the disputed site, and hand over management of the temples to it.
The plea claimed that Qutub Minar premises has “clear pictures of Hindu Gods and deities like Shri Ganesh, Vishnu and Yaksha” and several symbols like kalash and sacred lotus, along with temple wells, which suggest a “Hindu origin of the building”.
In November, a civil judge dismissed the suit, saying that wrongs of the past cannot be used as the instruments to oppress in present and future. However, the plaintiffs filed appeals against the order before an additional district court, and a notice was issued in February to the Centre and ASI.
Considering the appeals, the additional district court on Tuesday observed that the fundamental question in the pleas is about the “character of the monument” since ASI has argued that the character of the mosque was frozen after it came under protection of law, while the petitioners had claimed that the religious character must be considered since this was a temple.
Jain, on his part, argued that the mosque was constructed after demolishing 27 temples, and in the last 800 years, no prayers have been offered at the mosque. He contended that under section 16 of the AMASR Act, a monument can be restored into a place of worship.
Referring to the 2019 Supreme Court ruling on the Ayodhya issue, Jain argued that the “divinity of a deity never vanishes’’ and a deity property will always retain its character. “I am a worshipper. There are images still existing, still visible…If the deity survives, the right to worship survives,” Jain added.
However, opposing the pleas, ASI counsel advocate Subhash C Gupta told the court that the monument is “non-living” as no prayers were being offered by any community at the time it was brought under the ambit of the AMASR Act.
Stating that nowhere it has been mentioned that the construction of the Quwaat ul Islam mosque was built with the remains of the 27 temples, the ASI counsel argued that when the complex was constructed, the material was used in a haphazard manner, resulting in images being erected upside down in some places.
“One image of Lord Ganesha is on the lower portion of the wall. Since this is at a lower level, a grill has been provided to prevent any possibility of someone stepping on it. This grill has been there since 2001. Regular painting of the grill is done by the local office of ASI. Another image of Lord Ganesha is found in the complex in an upside-down position. However, this is embedded in the wall, therefore, it may not be feasible to remove or reset the same,” ASI’s affidavit stated.
The court posted the matter for pronouncement of orders on June 9 and allowed the parties to file written submissions in the meantime.
On April 13, the court directed ASI not to remove the two idols of Ganesha till further directions after the plaintiff filed an application stating his apprehension that the idols may be removed by ASI.
The two idols are called Ulta Ganesh and Ganesha in cage, and are located in the compound of the 12th century monument, which was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.
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