Only a month back a civil suit was filed in a Mathura court seeking to “reclaim” another contested plot of land in Uttar Pradesh, the 13.37 acre land in Mathura claimed to be the original janmabhoomi (birthplace) of Lord Krishna.
The plaint, which demands that the Shahi Idgah Masjid be demolished and removed, has brought back eerie memories of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the eventual demolishing of the historic Babri Masjid in 1992. The lawsuit has been filed by six Hindus who call themselves “friends” of the deity and of Krishna’s birthplace.
The appeal challenging the civil court verdict in Mathura has been filed through advocates Hari Shankar Jain, Vishnu Shankar Jain, and Pankaj Kumar Verma. Mr. Hari Shankar Jain is widely acclaimed within the Hindu rightwing in India for championing the cause of the Hindutva project through legal means. He was part of the legal team in the Ram Janmabhoomi civil suit legal battle as well.
Moreover, in 2015, Mr. Hari Shankar Jain was also the key petitioner in a case in a civil court claiming that Taj Mahal was originally a Hindu Temple. Mr. Vishnu Shankar Jain, too, represented Hindu devotees in the Ram Janmabhoomi case and is a lawyer for the Hindu Mahasabha.
Apart from the legal team, there exist striking similarities in the manner in which Hindutva organisations are clamouring for the demolishing of yet another mosque in Uttar Pradesh.
In the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the Sangh Parivar–a reference to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated organisations–popularised the narrative that the Mughal emperor Babur had destroyed a grand temple in Ayodhya and built a Masjid in its place in the 16th century. The Sangh’s rationale for the demolition of the Babri Masjid bares sinister resemblance to justifications issued in the civil suit for demolishing the Shahi Idgah Masjid.
The appellants in the case of the Krishna Janmabhoomi have alleged that Aurangzeb, another Mughal emperor and a descendant of Emperor Babur, destroyed part of a temple in the seventeenth century to construct the Shahi Idgah Masjid.
In both cases, of the Babri Masjid and the Shahi Idgah Masjid, obsessive references to the “golden age” of Hindus being destroyed by the “invader” Muslims.
The plaint, filed on 26 September, stated that “it is matter of fact and history that Aurangzeb ruled over the country from 31.07.1658 to 3.03.1707 AD and he being a staunch follower of Islam had issued orders for demolition of large number of Hindu religious places and temples including the temple standing at the birth place of Lord Shree Krishna.”
With the Ram Mandir movement reaching its successful culmination, where the promise of a towering Ram Mandir at Ayodhya has been set into motion by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is being feared that the claims of Lord Krishna’s birthplace is just another excuse to rekindle and further strengthen the tide of majoritarian Hindutva ideology.
The appellants in the case have made the argument that the 13.37 acres of land where presently the Shahi Idgah Masjid stands is the original birth place of Lord Krishna. They have contested claims of the Sunni Waqf board that the dispute had been effectively resolved in 1968 by reaching a “compromise” with the Shri Krishna Janmashtan Seva Sansthan (SKJSS). In the appeal, the appellants have declared that SKJSS was incompetent to reach such an agreement in the first place.
In 1815, the contested land was put up for Auction by the East India Company who had won the land after defeating the Marathas in battle. The land was eventually purchased by Raja Patni Maal of Benaras. In 1944, Seth Jugal Kishore Birla, a devout Hindu, purchased the contested land from legal heirs of Raja Patnimal with the promise of paying Rupees 13,400 to some senior members of the Hindu Mahasabha. In 1951, Mr. Birla created a public trust in the name of Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust, dedicating the entire 13.3 plot of land to the deity. However, the appellants are of the belief that SKJSS, established roughly 7 years after the Trust, had overpowered the Trust that Birla had created.
In 1968 after a prolonged legal tussle between Muslim litigants over ownership of the land the SKJSS entered a compromise with the Trust Masjid Idgah. The agreement was then decreed by the court in 1974. It was agreed that the land would be divided where the court instructed both the Seva Sangh and the management of the Shahi Masjid Idgah to “stay away from each other’s sections”. The appellants cite the compromise as the main bone of contention in the civil suit claiming that the SKJSS not being the owners of the land had no right to enter an agreement with the Waqf. They claim the agreement to be “legally invalid”.
On October 13, the appellants filed a fresh petition in a district court for ownership of the contested land after the previous civil suit was dismissed by the Mathura civil court. District Judge Sadhna Rani Thakur has summoned the lower court records and fixed the next date of hearing as October 16. The question remains: is this another Babri in the unmaking?
The comment originally appeared in our 19-25 October 2020 print edition.