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The Haji Ali Dargah Ruling

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The Bombay High Court today decided on the issue of entry of women in the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah. The Bombay High Court said that the ban violated the constitution as it discriminated against women.

The ban, that was imposed in 2012 by the trust, argued that it was a sin to allow women to touch the tomb of a male saint. Although women were allowed in other parts of the Dargah, the 2012 ban barred them from entering the inner sanctum, which housed the tomb of a Sufi Saint.

A PIL challenging this ban was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India by social activists (petitioners in the present case), alleging grounds of gender discrimination and arbitrary denial of access to women in the inner sanctum.

The petitioners state that they are the office bearers of `Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan’ – a national secular autonomous mass movement of Muslim Women with over 50,000 members in 15 States. According to the petitioners, earlier during their visits, they were permitted to enter the inner sanctorum where the saint lied buried, through a separate entry earmarked only for women to enable them to offer prayers. But in June 2012, one of the petitioners discovered a steel barricade put up at the entry of the inner sanctum’s sanctorum, preventing women from entering this part of the mosque. When the petitioner sought reasons for the same from the President of the Haji Ali Dargah, he disclosed the following reasons for imposing such a ban:

  1. women wearing blouses with wide necks bend on the Mazaar, thus showing their breasts;
  2. for the safety and security of women; and
  3. that earlier they were not aware of the provisions of Shariat, and had made a mistake, and therefore had taken steps to rectify the same.

The petitioners approached various state authorities to discuss this matter, but to no avail. Even though the authorities arranged for a meeting between the petitioners and the Haji Ali Dargah Trust, the issue could not be resolved. Aggrieved by the fact, the petitioners filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court, seeking, among other reliefs, an appropriate writ, order or direction in the nature of writ of mandamus and to declare that female devotees have an equal right of entry and access to all parts including the sanctum sanctorum (mazaar) of the Haji Ali Dargah, on par with the male devotees and to restore status quo ante, by permitting female devotees to enter the sanctum’s sanctorum.

The High court decided in favor of the petitioners, stating that the ban barring the women from entering the sanctum’s sanctorum was violative of Article 14 (equality before law within India), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, caste, sex), Article 19 (1)(d) (to move freely throughout the territory of India) and Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Indian Constitution.

The ruling, however, doesn’t mean that the women will be allowed to enter the Dargah immediately, as the High Court has granted a stay on the order for six weeks to allow the shrine authorities to appeal to the Supreme Court.

No matter what the Supreme Court decides, this judgment of the High Court paves the way for justice to all and gender equality. According to one of the petitioners, it was a major setback for the patriarchs.

Image Source: Times of India

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