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HC allows women’s entry in Haji Ali dargah

Haji Ali Dargah

Mumbai : In a significant judgement, the Bombay High Court today lifted the ban imposed on women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali dargah here, saying it contravenes the fundamental rights of a person.

The court has, however, stayed its order for six weeks following a plea by Haji Ali Dargah Trust, which wants to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

“The ban imposed on women from entering the Haji Ali dargah is contrary to Articles 14, 15, 19 and 25 of the Constitution of India. Women should be permitted to enter the dargah on par with men,” a division bench of Justices V M Kanade and Revati Mohite Dere said.

Under the said Articles, a person is guaranteed equality before law and has the fundamental right to practice any religion he or she wants. They prohibit discrimination on grounds of religion, gender and so on, and provide freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

The bench allowed a PIL filed by two women, Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz, challenging the ban on women’s entry in the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah.

“The state government and the Haji Ali Dargah Trust will have to take proper steps to ensure safety and security of women entering the dargah,” the court said.

The high court had in June this year reserved its verdict on the petition.

The PIL states that gender justice is inherent in Quran and the decision contravenes the Hadith, which proves that there is no prohibition on women visiting graves.

The Maharashtra government had earlier told the court that women should be barred from entering the inner sanctorum of Haji Ali dargah only if it is so enshrined in the Quran.

The ban on women’s entry cannot be justified if it is on the basis of an expert’s interpretation of the Quran, the then Maharashtra Advocate General Shrihari Aney had argued.

The dargah trust had defended its stand saying that it is referred in Quran that allowing women close proximity to the dargah of a male saint is a grievous sin.

Advocate Shoaib Memon, appearing for the trust had earlier said, “Women are not allowed inside mosques in Saudi Arabia. They are given a separate place to pray. We (trust) have not barred women. It is simply regulated for their safety. The trust not only administers the dargah but also manages the affairs of religion.”

In April, women were allowed in sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple in the state’s Ahmednagar district after the high court directed the Maharashtra government to take pro-active steps for ensuring compliance of law to prevent discrimination against women on entry to places of worship.

Zakia Soman, one of the petitioners in the Haji Ali Dargah case, said they were overwhelmed by the decision.

“We are overjoyed and overwhelmed. We are waiting for the feeling to sink in. So, it is a historic judgement and we welcome it whole heartedly and we are so grateful that the muslim women, the ordinary muslim women have got justice. We are extremely happy at the way the judgement has come,” she said.

On the court ordering the stay, she said, “We have already won and we are democratic people and we recognise the democratic right of the other party to challenge the verdict and go to the higher court.

“Unlike them, we will not like to come in the way of their democratic rights. But the Bombay High Court verdict is in our favour. It has restored the gender justice principles as found in the Quran as well as in the Constitution of India. It is a victory for the women all over the country and nothing can take away from that.”

Trupti Desai, who has led a campaign for allowing entry to women at places of worship, said the decision of the high court is “historic”.

“The right which was given to women since 1950s was not implemented properly. Women were not allowed to enter the shrine. We welcome the High Court order and it is a big win for women.

“It is a victory of all women and Bhumata brigade against patriarchial thinking. We wil be going to the shrine on Sunday after the court order is available online tomorrow,” she said.

The Supreme Court should follow the high court order and entry of women to the Sabrimala temple also should be allowed, Desai demanded, adding, “we will not let anyone snatch our rights”.

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