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Explained: The Krishna Janmabhoomi case in Mathura, and the challenge to the 1968 ‘compromise’ between the Hindus and Muslims

The site in Mathura where Lord Krishna is said to have been born, and where a mosque stands today, is back under litigation. A look at the history of the site, the litigation, and a 1968 agreement between the two sides.

Written by Apurva Vishwanath , Edited by Explained Desk | Mathura |
Updated: May 21, 2022 8:28:50 am
A view of the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Temple and the Shahi Idgah Mosque, in Mathura, Thursday, May 19, 2022. (PTI)

On Thursday, the same day when it emerged that a court-ordered videography survey of the Gyanvapi mosque complex in Varanasi had found debris of old temples and Hindu motifs on pillars, a district judge in Mathura allowed the reopening of a lawsuit on the ownership of a plot of land on which stands another mosque, built in the 17th century.

The Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura was built on the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb adjacent to the Krishna Janmasthal — believed to be the place where Lord Krishna was born — after demolishing a temple.

What has the Mathura court ruled?

District and Sessions Judge Rajiv Bharti allowed an appeal by the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust and other parties seeking ownership of the land on which the mosque is built. The dispute involves ownership of 13.37 acres, which the petitioners claim belongs to the deity Lord Shri Krishna Virajman.

The plea was dismissed by a lower court earlier, and subsequently a revision petition was filed before the district judge. The civil suit will now be heard by a lower court.

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Apart from looking into revenue records, the court will also have to decide the validity of a 1968 “compromise agreement” between the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan — the temple management authority, a registered society under law — and the Trust Shahi Masjid Idgah. It was under this agreement that the temple authority had conceded the contentious portion of land to the Idgah on which the mosque stands.

What is the litigation so far?

At least a dozen cases have been filed in courts in Mathura by different petitioners. A common thread in all the petitions is a prayer for the removal of the mosque from the 13.77-acre complex, which it shares with the Katra Keshav Dev Temple.

Other pleas include a video survey of the mosque (which would be on the lines of the survey allowed by the Varanasi court at the Gyanvapi mosque), and the right to offer prayers on the premises.

The Allahabad High Court is hearing a public interest litigation by advocate Mehek Maheshwari demanding that the mosque be acquired by the government. Initially, the PIL was dismissed as the lawyer did not turn up for the hearing, but a Bench comprising Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Prakash Padia revived it. It is expected to be heard on July 25.

In a separate case, the High Court on May 12 directed the Civil Judge (Senior Division), Mathura, to decide within four months cases on the Krishna Janmabhoomi issue. Justice Salil Kumar Rai was hearing a case filed by Manish Yadav, who claims to be next of kin to the deity, seeking a temporary injunction against the Shahi Idgah from entering the premises.

Who owns the land in question?

The mosque was built by Aurangzeb in 1670 on the site of an earlier temple. The area was regarded as nazul land — non-agricultural state land owned by the Marathas, and then the British. Before the mosque was built, Raja Veer Singh Bundela of Orchha had also built a temple on the same premises in 1618.

In 1815, Raja Patni Mal of Benaras bought the 13.77 acres in an auction from the East India Company. The Raja’s descendants — Rai Kishan Das and Rai Anand Das — sold the land to Jugal Kishore Birla for Rs 13,400, and it was registered in the names of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Goswami Ganesh Dutt, and Bhiken Lalji Aattrey.

The Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust was set up by Birla, and it acquired the ownership rights over the Katra Keshav Dev temple. In 1951, the 13.77 acres were placed in the trust, with the condition that the “trust property will never be sold or pledged.”

In 1956, the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Sewa Sangh was set up to manage the affairs of the temple. In 1977, the word ‘Sangh’ in the registered society’s name was replaced with ‘Sansthan.’

What is the petition on which Thursday’s order was issued?

In 2020, Lucknow-based advocate Ranjana Agnihotri, along with six others, filed a plea before the Civil Judge (Senior Division) seeking the removal of the Shahi Idgah mosque from the temple complex. Agnihotri — who, incidentally, wrote a book called SriRam Janmbhoomi Ayodhya Unpunished Conspiracy: Brutal Killing, Mischief and Interpolation in 2017 — claimed to be suing on behalf of Shri Krishna Virajman as “next of kin” to the deity.

The petitioners argued that the original kaaraagar (prison) where Lord Krishna is believed to have been born “lies beneath the construction raised by Committee of Management Trust Masjid Idgah” and that the “true fact will come out before the Court after excavation”. (According to legend, Lord Krishna’s parents Devaki and Vasudev had been imprisoned by the evil king Kansa, after it was prophesied that Devaki’s child would be his nemesis.)

In September 2020, Judge Chaya Sharma dismissed the plea on grounds of maintainability, holding that Agnihotri and the other petitioners did not have locus, and could not be “next of kin” of the deity when a temple management authority already exists.

The court also said that the temple and the Shahi Idgah had entered into a compromise in 1968, which had been subsequently formalised through a decree of the court.

What the 1968 compromise says

According to court records, prior to 1968, several hutments stood on the 13.77-acre plot. Following the settlement, tenants of the Idgah were asked to vacate so a new temple could come up. Boundaries were redrawn so both places of worship could operate simultaneously. A wall separated them; it was agreed that the mosque would have no window, door, or open drain facing the temple.

The petitioners say the agreement was made fraudulently, and is invalid in law. In any case, the deity was not part of the proceedings, and His rights cannot be extinguished by the agreement.

THERE was a dispute between Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh and Trust Shahi Masjid Idgah and certain Muslims who claimed to be tenants of the Trust, or licensees. Many civil and criminal cases were pending.

NORTHERN and southern wall of Idgah’s “Kachchi Kursi” will be extended by Trust to the East up to railway line.

TRUST shall get vacated inhabitant Muslim Ghosis, etc. outside the wall on the North and South sides, and deliver the land to Sangh. It will have no concern with its ownership thereafter, and the Sangh will have no concern with the ownership of the land within the Northern walls.

LAND ON the West-North corner of Kachchi Kursi is of the Sangh. Trust will rectangularise Kachchi Kursi; it will be deemed to be its property.

By 15 Oct 1968, Trust will remove the rubble of stairs on Southern side which is subject of the litigation, and Sangh will have possession over that land.

LAND OUTSIDE the North and South walls will be delivered to Sangh by the Trust by 15 Oct 1968, before walls etc. are constructed. Trust will not affix any door, window, or grill in these walls or walls of Kachchi Kursi towards the Sangh, or open any drain or water outlet in that direction. Sangh will also not do any such work.

SANGH WILL at its own cost divert the water of Idgah outlets by fixing pipes and subsequently constructing a masonry drain. Trust will not object to fixing pipes in the walls of Masjid Idgah.

SANGH WILL deliver to Trust the land in front of the Idgah inside the North and South walls, from the railway land which Sangh is getting acquired.

BOTH parties shall file compromise in accordance with the Agreement in all pending cases, after fulfilment of all conditions.

IN CASE any party does not adhere to the conditions, both parties will have right to have it enforced through court of law or whatever manner it may be possible.

(Shortened and edited)

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