Mumbai : Giving out a message of not permitting any kind of ‘inessential’ religious practice, the Bombay High Court on Friday lifted the ban on women’s entry inside the sanctum sanctorum of the historic Haji Ali Dargah in South Mumbai.

The 56-page judgment specifically states, “The Trust has no power to alter or modify the mode or manner of religious practice of any individual or group.”

Trashing the Trust’s claim that it has rights conferred by the Constitution to ‘manage religious affairs’, the ruling states, “The Trust has no right to discriminate against entry of women into a public place of worship under the guise of ‘managing the affairs of religion’ as provided under Article 26.”

“In fact, the right to manage the trust cannot override the right to practice religion itself, as Article 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs) cannot be seen to abridge or abrogate the right guaranteed under Article 25 (Freedom to practice and propagate religion) of the Constitution,” the Judges noted.

“The State will have to ensure the protection of rights of all its citizens guaranteed under the Constitution, including Articles 14 (Equality before Law) and 15 (Prohibition of discrimination), to protect rights against the discrimination based on gender,” the judgment reads. The judges also said that the Trust has imposed the ban on mere “misreading” of Article 26.

Regarding the Trust’s submission that its decision was rooted in the ‘sexual harassment’ of women, the bench has said, “Under

the guise of providing security and ensuring safety of women from sexual harassment, the Trust cannot justify the ban and prevent women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Dargah.”

“The Trust is, however, always at liberty to take steps to prevent sexual harassment of women, not by barring their entry inside the sanctum but by taking effective steps like keeping separate queues for men and women, as done earlier,” the bench observed.

Speaking about the reference made to certain verses of Quran by the Trust to support their stand, the bench has said, “There is nothing in any of the verses (cited) which shows that Islam does not permit entry of women at all into a Dargah/Mosque. Also none of the verses show that women’s entry was sinful in Islam.”

“It therefore cannot be said that the said prohibition is an ‘essential and integral part of Islam,’ the bench further noted.

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