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Religion or Rights – Haji Ali

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a landmark judgement, the Bombay High Court allowed women to enter inside the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah. Earlier, an NGO filed a PIL in November 2014 against the diktat by the trust and urged the court to step in and overthrow the trust’s ruling. After a wait of more than six months, the Bombay High Court finally gave a judgement in the Haji Ali Dargah matter. The Bench is also following the status of a PIL in the Supreme Court on the 1,500-year-old historic Sabrimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala, which has also banned the entry of women.

The Bombay High Court recently asked the Maharashtra government to ensure that women are not denied entry to any religious place, and court apply the same principle when it comes to Dargah. Yes, this is a good verdict. In most of the Dargahs ladies are allowed. Women are equally important in a society and in every family irrespective of their faith. The discrimination on gender basis is to be removed at all places of worship. This refinement has no place in any religion, cult or creed and certainly not in secular India.

Moreover, Dargahs are becoming a money making enterprise just like temples. Practice of idol worship is against Islam, Muslims visiting Dargahs is sheer ignorance and shunning of Allah according to some sects in Islam. There is absolutely no recommendation unnecessary nor is the dead going to hear our prayers. Whatever you get it is only from Allah because he can give it to you. If according to that sects, when Dargah’s are unislamic as they are places where dead saints are revered and worshiped, then you shouldn’t be having any problem in allowing women. It is important that women should be treated equally but it is more important that this equal treatment be accepted by the society. Otherwise, this will result in extremism or vigilantism. And same thing we are noticing in the caste system as well. There are laws but nothing has stopped Dalit oppression and atrocities. The traditions of not allowing individuals to enter places of worship on the basis of gender and caste have no place in today’s society. These traditions have to be struck down, if needed, by a Supreme Court decision.

The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Noor Jahan of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in November 2014. The PIL states that women were going to the Dargah since childhood, and suddenly in June 2012, the trust restricted the entry of women to the sanctum of the Dargah. Earlier, the trustees of the dargah told the court that entry of women in close proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint is considered a grievous sin in Islam. The existing arrangement provides for a secure place for women to offer prayers. “This has been decided in the interest of women and they are close to the inner sanctorum of the tomb as far as possible.”

On June 28, the day which was previously decided for pronouncement of judgement, the High Court asked the petitioner and the Trust officials to submit orders, if any, passed by the Supreme Court and in similar situations, including the Sabrimala and Shani Shingnapur temples, where entry of women was banned.

The Maharashtra government also backed the entry of women into the Haji Ali Dargah, and told the Bombay High Court that equality must rule over tradition and customs. It said that unless the Dargah Trust is able to prove that the ban is part of their religious practice with reference to Quran, women should be allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum.

The Haji Ali Dargah is a complex housing the tomb of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and a mosque. It is 550 years old and built on rocks off the sea and was given its present-day shape in the early 19th century. Its website proclaims that “people from all parts of the world without restrictions of caste, creed and religion visit the Dargah to offer their prayers and for the fulfilment of their wishes by the blessings of the saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Some pray for wealth, others for health, children, marriages, etc, have their wishes being granted at all the times.” Between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors go there daily and the number swells to over 20,000 during festivals. It is a famous tourist place of Mumbai, the place is also known for rich beggars. The beggars sit in a row. They give change (chillar) after charging exchange rate (e.g. on exchange of Rs.100 currency notes, they will return you Rs. 96 in coins) to donate it to other beggars. Beggars existed here since generations. This Dargah is home for many and livelihood for hundreds. Finally, the High Court verdict has stopped the gender discrimination against women.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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