Indian court limits Muslim gatherings at mosque after Hindu idols found -lawyer

The court ordered the survey of the mosque after five women sought permission to perform Hindu rituals in one part of it, saying a Hindu temple once stood on the site.

 A worker stands on a temple rooftop adjacent to the Gyanvapi Mosque ahead of the inauguration of the new Kashi Vishwanath Temple corridor by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the northern city of Varanasi, India, December 12, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/PAWAN KUMAR)
A worker stands on a temple rooftop adjacent to the Gyanvapi Mosque ahead of the inauguration of the new Kashi Vishwanath Temple corridor by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the northern city of Varanasi, India, December 12, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/PAWAN KUMAR)

Acourt on Monday banned large Muslim prayer gatherings in one of north India's highest-profile mosques after a survey team found relics of the Hindu god Shiva and other Hindu symbols there, a lawyer involved in the case said.

The judge at the court in Varanasi — Hinduism's holiest city and the site of the historic Gyanvapi mosque — ruled that Islamic gatherings there should be limited to 20 people, lawyer H. S. Jain said.

The court ordered the survey of the mosque after five women — represented by Jain — sought permission to perform Hindu rituals in one part of it, saying a Hindu temple once stood on the site.

The Gyanvapi mosque, located in the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is one of several mosques in northern Uttar Pradesh that Hindu hardliners believe — in common with some other religious sites — was built on top of demolished Hindu temples.

Police said the court order would help maintain law and order at a time when hardline Hindu groups tied to Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had stepped up demands to excavate inside some mosques and to permit searches in the Taj Mahal mausoleum.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks as he attends a news conference during the German-Indian government consultations at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany May 2, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks as he attends a news conference during the German-Indian government consultations at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany May 2, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)

Leaders of India's 200 million Muslims view such moves as attempts to undermine their rights to free worship and religious expression, with the BJP's tacit agreement.

Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, a BJP member, told Reuters local TV partner ANI that the government welcomed the court order "and we will implement it."

In 2019, the Supreme Court allowed Hindus to build a temple at the site of the disputed 16th-century Babri mosque that was demolished by Hindu crowds in 1992 who believed it was built where Hindu Lord Ram was born.

The incident led to religious riots that killed nearly 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, across India.