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

The Shahi Idgah mosque 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 private parties seeking ownership of the land on which the mosque Shahi Idgah is built. The Idgah is next to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Sthal, where the deity Krishna is believed to have been born. The dispute essentially involves ownership of 13.37 acres of land, which the petitioners claim belongs to the deity Lord Shri Krishna Virajman.

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

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, which is a registered society under law — and the Trust Masjid Idgah, by which the temple authority conceded the contentious portion of land to the Idgah.

What is the litigation around the dispute so far?

At least a dozen cases have been filed in local courts in Mathura by different petitioners. A common thread in all the petitions is the prayer seeking the removal of the Shahi Idgah mosque from the 13.77-acre complex, which it shares with the Katra Keshav Dev Temple. Lord Krishna is believed to have been born on the premises of the temple.

Other prayers in the mosques include a video survey of the mosque 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 petition (PIL) by advocate Mehek Maheshwari demanding that the Shahi Idgah mosque be acquired by the government. Initially, the PIL was dismissed since the lawyer did not turn up for the hearing, but a Bench comprising Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Prakash Padia revived the plea. It is now expected to be heard on July 25.

In a separate case, the Allahabad High Court on May 12 directed the Civil Judge (Senior Division), Mathura, to expeditiously (within four months) decide cases on the Krishna Janmabhoomi issue. Justice Salil Kumar Rai was hearing a case filed by Manish Yadav, who also 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 Shahi Idgah mosque was built by Aurangzeb in 1670 on the site of an earlier temple. The area was regarded as “nazul” land — a non-agricultural state owned land by the Marathas, and then the British.

In 1815, Raja Patni Mal of Benaras bought the 13.77 acres of land which houses the mosque and is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna, in an auction from the East India Company.

The descendants of the Raja Patni Mal sold the land to Jugal Kishore Birla, and the land was registered in the names of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Goswami Ganesh Dutt, and Bhiken Lalji Aattrey. A trust, the ‘Shri Krishna Janma Bhoomi Trust’, was formed, which acquired the ownership rights over the Katra Keshav Dev temple.

What are the details of 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, the Lord’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.)

A few local advocates also joined as parties in the case, in which the temple trust and the Shahi Idgah were made to respond to the plea.

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.

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

So what was this 1968 “compromise”?

According to court records, prior to 1968, the complex was not very structured, and there were several inhabited hutments on the 13.77-acre piece of land. Through the settlement, Muslim inhabitants of the premises were asked to vacate, and boundaries were drawn for the mosque and the temple to operate simultaneously.

The agreement also ensured that the mosque would not have any window, door, or an open drain towards the temple. The two places of worship are essentially separated by a wall.

The petitioners have argued that the compromise agreement was made fraudulently, and is invalid in law. In any case, the rights of the deity cannot be extinguished by the agreement, since the deity was not part of the proceedings, they have argued.

And what are the “rights” of a deity?

Under law, a deity is considered a judicial person as opposed to a “natural person”. It is a legal fiction developed to give certain rights and liabilities to the entity with regard to the holding of property, paying taxes, and the right to sue and be sued.

A deity is equivalent to a minor under the law, and can be represented in court through the person holding shebait rights, usually the priest managing the affairs of the temple. However, in ‘Bishwanath And Anr vs Shri Thakur Radhaballabhji & Ors’ (1967), the Supreme Court held that a suit could be filed by the idol represented by a worshiper in a case where the shebait was found to be “alienating the idol’s property” “.

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