India court allows survey of centuries-old mosque to look for Hindu relics

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – An Indian court has granted permission to survey a centuries-old mosque to determine if it contains Hindu relics and symbols, a lawyer said on Thursday, in a boost to Hindu groups which claim it was built on a site of a destroyed Hindu temple.

The Shahi Eidgah mosque is located in Mathura city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and the site is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna, revered by India’s majority Hindu population.

On Thursday, the Allahabad high court permitted a survey of the 17th century mosque, where Muslims still pray, to determine if there are any relics or Hindu symbols inside the complex.

“My demand was that in Shahi Eidgah Masjid there are a lot of signs and symbols of the Hindu temple,” Vishnu Jain, a lawyer for the Hindu side, told reporters after the verdict.

Last year, Hindu groups petitioned to keep Muslims from praying in the mosque, saying they suspected that Hindu relics inside could be removed.

“The truth will come out now, was it a mosque or a temple,” Vinod Bansal, a spokesperson for hardline Hindu organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), told CNN News18 TV channel.

Earlier this year, another court allowed a similar survey of the centuries old Gyanvyapi mosque in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, to determine if it had been built atop a Hindu temple.

Members of hardline Hindu groups linked to Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believe that Islamic invaders and rulers destroyed Hindu temples over several centuries.

They want to reclaim and restore some of the most revered temples, including in Mathura and Varanasi – a polarising dispute that pits them against India’s 200 million minority Muslims.

A similar dispute in Ayodhya led to Hindu mobs razing the Babri mosque in 1992, following claims it was built atop a temple dedicated to Lord Ram at his birthplace.

That site was handed over to Hindu groups by the Supreme Court in 2019 and Modi is due to inaugurate a grand Ram temple there next month.

There was no immediate response from Muslim groups to Thursday’s court order.

Asaduddin Owaisi, a prominent Muslim lawmaker, said the Mathura dispute had been settled decades ago but a new group had been raking it up.

“This group has made a mockery of the law and the judicial process … law doesn’t matter anymore. Robbing Muslims of their dignity is the only goal now,” he posted on X.

(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma, writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, editing by YP Rajesh and Tomasz Janowski)