The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the entry of women in Haji Ali Dargah till October 17 after the dargah management said that it would come out with a progressive stand in two weeks. Hearing the matter, the apex court said troubles are created when at a place, men are allowed and women are not. The apex court will hear the matter next on October 17. The top court pronounced the order while hearing the appeal filed by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust, challenging the Bombay High Court’s verdict allowing women in the inner sanctum of the dargah.
On August 26, the Bombay High Court lifted the ban imposed on women from entering the inner sanctum of Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. Noorjehan Fiaz and Zakia Soman, founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), had petitioned the Bombay High Court against the ban, calling it unconstitutional.
The 2011 ban violates the women’s right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 of the constitution. The PIL stated that gender justice is inherent in the Quran and there is no prohibition on women visiting graves.
Prior to 2011, the dargah did not discriminate against women and allowed free entry of people across religions. On March 2011, the dargah’s board of trustees imposed a ban on women’s entry, calling it a “grievous sin”.
On July 10, 2015, a bench headed by Justice V.M. Kanade set aside previous order framing eight questions by an earlier bench of the High Court on maintainability and decided to hear the PIL on merits.
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 justification of the Trust 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.