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Places of Worship Act

Introduction

As per Places of Worship Act, it is “an Act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”

What guidelines do the 1991 Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act contain?

In 1991, against the backdrop of the Ram Mandir agitation, the Parliament of the PV Narasimha Rao government passed this law.

  • This Act preserves a house of worship’s religious identity as it was on August 15, 1947.
  • A religious place of worship, or a portion of a religious place of worship, may not be converted into a place of worship for a different religion or a different denomination of the same religion, according to Section 3 of the Act.
  • All appeals, lawsuits, or other procedures about changing a place of worship’s religious character must come to a stop at the effective date of the Act, according to Section 4(2) of the Act. Additionally, no new appeals will be accepted.
  • It is crucial to remember that legal action may be taken if the place of worship’s religious nature is changed beyond the deadline of August 15, 1947.
  • The Sets of Worship Act also places a positive obligation on the State to preserve all places of worship’s religious character in the manner that it did at the time of independence.

Exceptions

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, governs ancient and historical monuments as well as archaeological sites and remains.

  • Any disagreement that has been resolved amicably between the parties, any litigation that has been definitively resolved or dismissed, and any conversion of property that occurred prior to the start of the Act.
  • Additionally, the Act does not apply to the Ayodhya temple known as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid. This law will take precedence over all other laws now in place.

Efficacy of the Act

  • The Places of Worship Act is inextricably linked to a secular state’s duty.
  • Equality between all faiths.
  • An affirmation of the solemn obligation placed on the State to uphold and defend the equality of all faiths as a fundamental constitutional principle and a component of the Constitution.

The Act’s penalties

  • According to Section 6 of the Act, it carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison as well as a fine.
  • When someone attempts to conduct an offence or help carry out a crime, they are nonetheless subject to penalty under subsection (1) even though they did not take any steps to actually commit the crime.
  • Anything in section 116 of the IPC (45 of 1860) will be punishable with the punishment specified for the offence if anybody aids or conspires to commit an offence under subsection (1).

How does the petition violate the ruling made in Ayodhya?

  • The statute was mentioned by the Constitution Bench, which was chaired by former CJI Ranjan Gogoi, in the 2019 Ayodhya judgement, and it was noted that it expresses the secular values of the Constitution and strictly forbids retrogression.
  • The statute, according to the court, protects secularism by forbidding changes to a place of worship’s status following Independence.
  • “Historical wrongs cannot be righted by the people taking the law into their own hands,” the five-judge Bench warned against additional attempts to alter the character of a house of worship.
  • Parliament has explicitly said that in order to preserve the nature of houses of public worship, the past and its wrongs shall not be used as tools to oppress the present and the future.
  • The State is addressed by the law just as much as every other American citizen is. Its standards bind all those in charge of running the country’s activities.
  • These standards put Article 51A’s Fundamental Duties into practice and as such are mandates that benefit all citizens.
  • In contrast to what the Supreme Court stated in the Ayodhya Verdict, the current petition challenges the law on the grounds that it infringes secularism.

Views of the Supreme Court

  • The Constitution Bench referred to the statute in the 2019 Ayodhya judgement and stated that it embodies the secular values of the Constitution and forbids retrogression.
  • Thus, the legislation is a legislative tool created to safeguard the secular aspects of Indian politics, which are one of the fundamental principles of the Constitution.

Petition concerning Places of Worship Act 1991

  • “The Centre has banned remedies against illegal encroachment on places of worship and pilgrimage, and now Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs cannot file a lawsuit or seek a high court under Article 226,” the plea stated. As a result, they won’t be allowed to reinstate their places of worship and pilgrimage, including temple endowments, in accordance with Articles 25 and 26, and the invaders’ illegal barbaric deeds would go on forever.
  • Additionally, the petition claimed that the law was against the Constitution’s secularism principle.
  • Some contend that “pilgrimage sites” or “burial grounds” are covered by the State List and that the centre was therefore powerless to enact regulations in this area. However, the centre had contended in Entry 97 that it may do so under the residuary power of the union list.

Why is the law under challenge to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?

The first religious parliament was held in Delhi in 1984, with about 558 Hindus in attendance. They planned to launch a national campaign encouraging Hindus to claim the holy sites in Varanasi, Mathura, and Ayodhya. The movement grew in power after the Ram Janma Bhumi-Babri Masjid Conflict in 1990. The Hindu religious groups concentrated on two mosques:

(1) Shahi Idgah Mosque, next to Lord Krishna Temple in Mathura

(2) Gyanvapi Mosque, next to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, despite the urge to lay claim to over 3000 mosques in the sites indicated above.

The petition was submitted in 1991 on behalf of Swayambhu Jyotirlinga Bhagwan Vishweshwar, the principal deity of the temple, by attorney Vijay Shankar Rastogi. Rastogi asserts in his petition that Maharaja Vikramaditya built the temple there about 2,050 years ago, where the current mosque now stands. He demanded that the Gyanvapi mosque be removed from the area, that Hindus be granted ownership of the entire parcel of property, and that they be granted the ability to practise their religion inside the mosque.

Petition filed for the Gyanvapi Mosque

  • A request was made to the Supreme Court by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in opposition to several clauses of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991.
  • The Act is being challenged because it forbids any community from claiming the places of worship of another community. This ban is questioned as being legitimate.
  • The Places of Worship Act of 1991, according to a petition, is “arbitrary, unreasonable, and retrospective.”
  • Sections of the Act dealing with the bar on legal claims were the subject of the petition, which argued that they violated secularism.
  • Additionally, it is claimed that the August 15, 1947 deadline is “arbitrary, unreasonable, and retrospective” and prevents Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Hindus from petitioning the courts to “reclaim” their places of worship.
  • It essentially robs people of their ability to use the legal system to seek redress and get justice.
  • According to the petition, “fundamentalist barbarous invaders” “invaded” and “encroached” upon such locations.
  • The petition claims that the law makes it acceptable for invaders to destroy sites of worship in the past. It is puzzling how the birthplace of Ram could be exempt from the legislation but not Krishna’s.

According to the petition, Sections 2, 3, and 4 of the Act:

  • Violates one’s ability to worship, practise, and spread religion (Article 25),
  • Right to control, maintain, and dispense with religious and pilgrimage sites (Article 26),
  • The right to protect culture (Article 29)
  • Antithetical to the State’s obligation to safeguard historic sites and maintain religious cultural heritage under Article 49 (Article 51A).

Conclusion

According to the Act, regardless of its past, every house of public worship that was open on the day of our independence, or 15 August 1947, will maintain its religious character on that day. The filing of lawsuits for such purposes of conversion is prohibited under Section 4, even though Section 3 prohibits the conversion of houses of worship. Thus, the Act’s purpose is evident.

The text of Section 4 of the Act provides a further basis for the dispute; another argument asserts that the clause forbids the right to judicial relief. Given that India has a long history of Muslim conquest and dominance, one key background of this Act is the claim that it discriminates against Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists.

As per the petition:

Hindus would not have received justice if the Ayodhya case had not been resolved. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs all regularly pay respect to their houses of worship. The ‘Hindu law principle’ is also mentioned in this passage: “Temple property is never lost even if it is enjoyed by strangers for years, and even the King cannot take property away because the deity is an embodiment of God and is a juristic person, represents infinite, the timeless, and cannot be confined to the shackles of time.” Therefore, a thorough reading of the writ petition can give a good indication of the petition’s goals. The petitioner contends that they have a right to have past wrongs corrected, especially now that the nation is independent, and that they are working to redress those wrongs. The petition clearly has religious overtones, and any discussion of the legitimacy of the measure will undoubtedly bring up significant legal issues.

References

  1. Journals of India, also available at Places of Worship Act – JournalsOfIndia
  2. Anna Anu Priya, “The constitutionality of the places of worship Act, 1991”, also available at The Constitutionality of the Places of Worship Act, 1991 for CLAT 2023 – CLATalogue (lawctopus.com)
  3. Places of Worship Act bare act, also available at Places Of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 (bareactslive.com)
  4. Places of Worship Act (Special Provision Act), also available atThe Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991|Legislative Department | Ministry of Law and Justice | GoI

This article is written by Aditi Jangid, from Delhi Metropolitan Education (Affiliated to GGSIPU).


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