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Haji Ali Dargah trust finally relents, allows women's entry into inner sanctum

Last updated on: October 24, 2016 16:58 IST

Women will be granted access to the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai on par with men, the dargah trust told the Supreme Court on Monday and sought four weeks to make the requisite infrastructural changes.

A bench comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices D Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao granted time to the trust and disposed off its appeal against the Bombay high court order asking it to give equal access to women also.

Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the trust, said an additional affidavit has been filed on behalf of the dargah trust saying it is willing to allow women inside the shrine.

Women's rights activist Trupti Desai termed the decision of the trust as the "victory of woman worshippers and Indian Constitution".

Desai, who heads the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, had started a campaign against gender bias at various religious places.

"Due to the pressure of the Supreme Court, and women organisations who were fighting against the gender bias, the trustees of Haji Ali Dargah had to take this decision," said Desai.

"We request the trustees of Sabarimala temple to take a cue from Haji Ali dargah and allow women to enter the sanctum," Desai added.

Desai said once she receive the order of the Supreme Court, they will go to the dargah in south Mumbai to seek blessings.

The apex court, on October 17, had extended the stay granted by Bombay high court to facilitate an appeal against its decision to lift the ban on entry of women near the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah in Mumbai.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had expressed hope that the trust, which had challenged the high court judgement, "will take a stand which is progressive".

Subramanium, had also assured the bench that he was on a "progressive mission" and said all holy books and scriptures promoted equality and nothing which is regressive in character should be suggested.

The bench had also remarked that "if you are not allowing both men and women to go beyond a point, there is no problem. But if you are allowing some to go beyond a point while others are not, it is a problem."

The counsel, appearing for a women's group which has challenged the practice of the trust not to allow women near the sanctum sanctorum, had submitted that the position was different before 2011 than what it is today.

The trust moved the apex court challenging the Bombay high court order lifting the ban on women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the renowned Muslim shrine in south Mumbai.

The high court on August 26 had held that the ban imposed by the trust on women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali dargah, contravened Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution and said women should be permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum like men.

The high court had allowed a PIL filed by two women, Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz, from NGO Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, challenging the ban on women's entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the dargah from 2012.

It had granted a six-week stay on the order on a request by the Dargah Trust to enable it to appeal before the Supreme Court.

The high court had held that the trust had no power to alter or modify the mode or manner of religious practices of any individual or any group.

The high court in its 56-page judgement had also noted that the "right to manage the trust cannot override the right to practice religion itself".

It had said the trust has not been able to justify the ban legally or otherwise. Hence it cannot be said that the prohibition was an essential and integral part of Islam and whether taking away that part of the practice would result in a fundamental change in the character of the religion or belief.

It had also refused to accept the trust's justification that the ban was imposed for safety and security of women, in particular, to prevent sexual harassment at places of worship.

The trust had claimed that the ban was in keeping with an order of the Supreme Court wherein stringent directions have been issued to ensure that there is no sexual harassment to women at places of worship.

The court had noted that the aims, objectives and activities of the Haji Ali dargah trust were not governed by any custom or tradition and held that it was a public charitable trust and hence, open to people all over the world, irrespective of their caste, creed or gender. 

The Maharashtra government had earlier told the court that women should be barred from entering the inner sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah only if it is so enshrined in the Quran.

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