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India: Court halts mosque survey wanted by Hindu hard-liners

Timothy Jones
January 16, 2024

India's Supreme Court has stopped a survey of a 17th century mosque to ascertain if it contains Hindu relics. Hindu hard-liners maintain that the mosque is built over the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna.

View of Shahi Eidgah mosque in Mathura
The Shahi Eidgah mosque was built in the late 17th centuryImage: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

India's Supreme Court on Tuesday halted plans for a survey to look for Hindu relics in the Shahi Eidgah mosque in the northern city of Mathura, saying that the application filed for appointment of the local commission was "very vague."

The ruling comes as Hindu hard-liners linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claim that Islamic invaders and rulers destroyed Hindu temples over several centuries.

What was the survey to achieve?

According to Indian broadcaster NDTV, those calling for the survey claim that the mosque was built after demolishing a previous Hindu temple, saying the demolition had been ordered by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who ruled India from 1658 until his death in 1707.

NDTV said the survey applicants believe that some lotus carvings on the mosque along with other alleged Hindu symbols prove that the mosque was built over a temple.

In its ruling, the two-judge panel at the Supreme Court said the purpose of the commission was too unclear, adding: "You can't leave everything to the court to look into."  

The Allahabad high court in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Mathura is located, last December had permitted a survey of the 17th century mosque, which is still in regular use.

Another court last year allowed a similar survey of the centuries-old Gyanvyapi mosque in Modi's constituency of Varanasi to detect signs of whether it had been built on the site of a previous Hindu temple.

Growing religious tensions

Tuesday's ruling comes as Modi is due to preside next week at the inauguration of a key Hindu temple in the town of Ayodhya, also in Uttar Pradesh, that has been built on a razed mosque.

In 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed the mosque, claiming it was built on the birthplace of the Hindu deity Rama and replaced a former temple in his honor.

Nationwide riots ensued in which 2,000 people were killed, most of them minority Muslims.

In 2019, the Supreme Court handed over the land to Hindus, and construction of the temple began in 2020.

Modi's government has accused at home and abroad of pursuing a course of hard-line Hindu nationalism under which Muslims and other religious minorities are discriminated against.

Edited by: Louis Oelofse

This article was written using material from Reuters news agency.