Mumbai: Women get full access to Haji Ali Dargah

Ban violates right to equality; stay on order for six weeks to enable shrine trust to move Supreme Court

Mumbai: In an historic judgment, the Bombay High Court on Friday declared the ban on women’s entry inside the holy shrine at Haji Ali Dargah as unconstitutional. The court has thereby permitted the entry of women right up to the restricted grave area of the shrine.

The ruling was given by a division bench presided over by Justice Vidyasagar Kanade and Justice Revati Mohite-Dhere, which was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz.

The petitioners had challenged a 2012 decision by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust prohibiting women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine, built in 1431, on the grounds that “women wearing blouses with wide necks bend on the ‘mazaar’, thus showing their breasts”, which was against Islam.

The petitioner’s lawyer Raju Z. Moray argued that there is nothing in the Holy Quran which prohibits the entry of women into mosques/dargahs and Islam believes in gender equality. Also, the decision taken by the trust contravened the Hadiths, which stated there was no prohibition on women visiting graves.

The shrine, located on the rocks off the Worli seashore, comprises the grave of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, a Muslim saint revered by all communities.

While pronouncing the judgment, Justice Mohite-Dhere said, “The ban imposed by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust is violative of Article 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India.”

The bench further said, “We direct the State and the Trust to ensure safety and security of women entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah.” The bench has however, stayed its orders till six weeks on the request of the trust, so that they can approach the Supreme Court.

The Trust, however, defended its decision claiming that entry of women near the tomb of a male saint is a grievous ‘sin’ and the same is referred to in Quran. Shoaib Memon, the advocate appearing for the Trust, cited the practice in Saudi Arabia and said, “Women are not allowed inside mosques in Saudi Arabia and they are given separate places to pray. The Trust has not barred women from entering the shrine; rather it has simply regulated the same for their (women’s) safety.”

Interestingly, the State government batted for women’s rights. Former Advocate General, Shrihari Aney, appearing for the State government, told the bench that the ban on women’s entry can be allowed unless the Trust proves the same is enshrined in the holy Quran.

The Trust has said it will appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court; so will the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen.

An umbrella outfit, ‘Haji Ali For All,’ comprising several social and women’s groups, including NGO Bhumata Brigade, had attempted to storm the shrine on April 28, but were stopped by the police on grounds of security.

Bhumata President Trupti Desai is credited with successful agitations culminating in women’s entry into the Shani Shingnapur Temple in Ahmednagar and later the Trimbakeshwar Temple in Nashik, both in April this year, besides a partially successful agitation at Mahalaxmi Temple in Kolhapur.

“I welcome the historic verdict of the court. Our agitation has been successful and the courts have recognized the equality and rights of women. We shall soon go to pray at Haji Ali Dargah,” Desai said while reacting to the high court ruling. Several prominent men and women Muslim intellectuals and activists have lauded the High Court ruling.

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