The head of the committee that framed a new Haj policy has said the government should allow women below 45 years of age to go on Haj without a “Mehram”. Afzal Amanullah said it had suggested to the government that the age limit on women travelling without “Mehram” – a term for a close male relative a woman cannot marry, such as her father, brother or son – be removed.
“If a male major can go alone for Haj, why not a woman,” Amanullah said. The Centre has for the first time decided to allow women pilgrims over the age of 45 to undertake the pilgrimage in groups of at least four sans ‘Mehram’. Till now, women pilgrims would be required to be accompanied by their husbands or ‘Mehrams’ during the annual pilgrimage.
Amanullah, the former Consul General of India, Jeddah, said no restrictions on age and “Mehram” had been imposed by Saudi Arabia’s government and the conditions had been set by India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio address recently, had said the policy of allowing Muslim women to perform Haj only in the company of a male guardian was unjust and discriminatory and his government had removed the restriction following which hundreds of women had applied to travel without male guardians for the pilgrimage.
Modi’s claims were met with criticism from some leaders such as All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi. Owaisi had dismissed Modi’s claim that it was his government which had enabled Muslim women to perform Haj without being accompanied by male guardians. “This regulation was passed by the Saudi Haj authorities many years ago,” the Hyderabad MP had said.
However, Amanullah, a retired IAS officer, said the restriction regarding “Mehram” was imposed by the Indian government and not Saudi Arabia. “The Indian government has now removed the restriction. I consider it a very important step,” said Amanullah, who was the convener of the committee on preparing the new Haj policy for 2018-2022.
It was on the basis of the report submitted by this committee that the government decided to do away with certain restrictions regarding “Mehram”. “I fail to understand why such a restriction was imposed by the Indian government for so many years. When we contacted the Saudi administration in the course of preparing the draft of the new Haj policy, we came to know that there was no such restriction from them,” Amanullah said.
More than 1,300 women from across the country have applied to go for Haj without ‘Mehram’ and will be exempted from the computerised lottery system which shortlists pilgrims every year.