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Haji Ali Dargah justifies banning women from inner sanctum in Bombay HC

The Haji Ali Dargah Trust on Wednesday justified before the Bombay High Court its decision to ban women devotees’ entry into the inner sanctum of the Dargah which houses the mazaar (tomb) of the saint.

Opposing a PIL challenging the ban on women entering the inner sanctum of the shrine, counsel for the trust Shoib Memon argued that in Islam it is considered to be a sin for women to come close to the tomb and so they had been permitted to see the tomb from a distance and offer prayers.

He also argued that the Supreme Court had laid down in one of its judgements that in matters concerning religion, the courts should not interfere.

Counsel for the petitioner, Raju Moray, argued that the decision to ban the entry of women into the inner sanctum of the shrine was “blatant discrimination on the ground of gender alone,” saying it impinges on their fundamental rights and also “the failure of the state to eliminate inequalities”.

The High Court bench, headed by Justice V M Kanade, after hearing arguments from both sides, kept the matter for issuing directions on April 1. On that day, the HC would fix a date for a final hearing of the PIL.

The shrine of Saint Haji Ali in South Mumbai, which is located in the sea and accessible by a separate road, attracts millions of visitors every year.

The PIL has been filed by activists Noorjehan Niaz and Zakia Soman of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, who alleged that the restriction on women was imposed between March 2011 and June 2012.

They said that right from their childhood they were allowed unimpeded access to the inner sanctum (mazaar) but now there is a barricade. A trustee had in July 2012 told them that the decision was taken for the safety and security of women and is based on Shariat provisions.

The petitioners said they had conducted a survey which showed that 12 out of 19 dargahs in Mumbai allowed women into the sanctum. They followed up with representations to the authorities, including women’s commissions, the state minority commission and the charity commissioner, but in vain.

In April 2014, they had again visited the Dargah and much to their dismay learnt that the debarment of women was still in force, said the PIL.

Assuming that Shariat says something which is contrary to principles enshrined in the Constitution, it is the Constitution which, as the supreme law of the land, should prevail over contravening personal laws, the PIL said.

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