Conceding that it was indeed Saudi Arabia that changed the rules to allow women above 45 years to go for Haj in a group without the mandatory mehram, or male escort, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday asked why did the previous Congress-led government not change the rule, as done now by the NDA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mentioned the issue of women going for Haj without a male escort in his last Mann Ki Baat radio address of 2017 — on December 31. Saudi Arabian authorities had allowed women above 45 to go for Haj in a group of at least four without a male relative (called mehram) in 2014.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Naqvi said: “It is true that (the) Saudi Arabia government had allowed women for Haj without Mehram for last several years. Then why did (the) earlier Central Government not take any action in this regard? The committee formed by Minority Affairs Ministry to prepare new Haj Policy, headed by former Secretary, Govt. of India and CJI Haj, Afzal Amanullah, pointed out to the government about this issue and recommended that when Saudi government’s rules permit female pilgrims over 45 years without male mehram, and also several other countries allow (it), why can’t this restriction be lifted by the Government of India?”
The government, Naqvi said, “examined this issue, talked to the Saudi authorities, who also accepted that there is no such restriction in their country, and the government accordingly lifted this ban on November 12, 2017. This step could have been taken by (the) previous Congress-led government, but it did not take any action on the issue because of pressure from fanatic anti-women forces.”
The Narendra Modi government, he maintained, took this “bold and proactive decision” of lifting the “self-imposed ban”. As a result, Muslim women can perform Haj without mehram this year, the minister stated.
Naqvi said that last year the Centre had faced similar criticism when Saudi Arabia had increased India’s Haj quota by 36,000 —- after considerable follow-up and efforts by the government. “The fact is, during the Congress-led regime, (India’s Haj) quota was reduced by 25,000,” he added.