Haji Ali Dargah ruling: 'Women bending to pray may show breasts,' fear trustees

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed on 28 July, by women activists Noorjehan Niaz and Zakia Soman from the NGO Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, challenged the ban on the entry of women into the inner sanctum of the city’s Haji Ali Dargah. This PIL then lead to a historic judgment, by the Bombay High Court on Friday, that signified a larger shift in Indian society for a just and fair world order, where women would be treated as equal human beings.

The argument made by the petitioners raised the point that the ban on entry of women into the inner sanctum was a recent development and women devotees till about 2011-2012 were allowed to enter the inner sanctum and offer prayers.

Haji Ali Dargah ruling: Women bending to pray may show breasts, fear trustees

At Pia Haji Ali, Image by Farah Mahbub

"Till 2011, we had been going right into the mazaar and offering our prayers. Can these arbitrary rules and regulations be accepted? Would not every believer, every human being, every Indian, every Muslim, every Hindu question it?" ask Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz in an earlier article that was published on the issue in Firstpost.

The trustees, in response to this argument claimed that they had been made to realise, through various Muslim clergies and teachers that the act of allowing women into the sanctum was a sin, and after considering 'various aspects', they had decided to put the ban in place. However the trustees never explained these 'various aspects' that they had presumably taken into consideration.

To justify the ban further they presented the court with three main arguments:

Women wearing blouses with wide necks bend on the mazaar thus showing their breasts

Safety and security of women. The trust members further, under the guise of ensuring safety of women from sexual harassment, cited complaints they had received from women, of belongings being stolen and of eve-teasing, and hence rationalized the ban

Earlier they were not aware of the provisions of the Shariat, hence the trust members saw the ban as more of an amendment.

According to Shohaib Menon, representative of the trust,  Islam discourages free mixing between men and women. He had relied on the verses from Quran and Hadith for support. However, the court declared that in the verses cited by the Trust, in no way indicated that Islam does not permit entry of women in Dargahs.

The court also said that the trust had always been at liberty to take steps to prevent sexual harassment of women, by making provisions and taking effective steps  like having separate queues for men and women. The court said that it was the duty of the State to ensure the safety and security of women at such places.

"The Trust contended that the restriction of the entry of women to the inner sanctum of the Dargah is an essential and integral part of Islam. The court has disagreed on that proposition and has said that allowing women entry won't fundamentally change the essence of Islam or alter it's fundamental character. It is a very wide judgment," said Ajay Kumar, a lawyer in the Bombay High Court.

The Haji Ali Dargah Trust members therefore were unable able to justify the ban legally, leading to the landmark judgment given by the Bombay High Court on Friday, that lead to the lifting of the ban on women devotees from entering the sanctum of the Dargah.

Indian women are coming out in the open demanding justice and challenging the male hegemony over religion, wrote two of the petitioners Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz in a Firstpost article.

The 'Haji Ali Sabke Liye' is a heartening step, they said. It signified that it wasn't just Trupti Desai or Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan fighting for this cause. It signified a greater change as Hindu men and women came together to speak in support of Muslim women, and vice-versa. This struggle, they believed is one historic movement,  with long-term significance for Indian democracy.

ordjud by Firstpost on Scribd

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Updated Date: Aug 26, 2016 15:17:40 IST

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