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India: Women enter Haji Ali shrine after legal battle

Major victory for BMMA that fought legal battles for access for women into the inner sanctum

Image Credit: AFP
Indian women leave after visiting the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. Dozens of women entered the inner sanctum of a historic mosque in India on November 29 after winning a bitter legal battle for a ban on female worshippers to be lifted. The Haji Ali Dargah trust agreed in October 2016 to lift the ban on women entering the landmark mausoleum off the coast of Mumbai after a group of women campaigners launched a legal case.
Gulf News

Mumbai: Dozens of women entered the inner sanctum of a historic mosque in India on Tuesday after winning a bitter legal battle for a ban on female worshippers to be lifted.

The women activists of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), who had campaigned hard for women’s right to pray at the Haji Ali shrine, entered the sanctum of the dargah (shrine) of the 14th century saint, Sayed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, at 3pm without authorities making any fuss over their entry.

Though the BMMA activists could enter the shrine, they could not go into the inner sanctum since there was not much space for any, as the dargah authorities had decided not to allow any worshipper to go and touch the saint’s tomb.

The trustees put the ban in place in 2011 arguing that allowing them near the tomb of a revered saint was a “grievous sin”.

The Haji Ali Dargah Trust had told the Supreme Court on October 24 that it would allow entry to women after the apex court upheld the Bombay High Court order. The Trust had sought four weeks to make arrangements for entry of women by making separate entries for men and women. But at the same time it had also decided not to allow any worshipper to touch the tomb and decided that all devotees pray two metres away from the tomb.

On Tuesday, it was crowded as well as chaotic but the activists decided not to raise any objection but take it slow as they had relentlessly fought for their right to pray at the shrine. “It was a fight for equality, ending gender bias and our constitutional rights. We are happy that it has resulted in women and men getting equal unrestricted access right till the sanctum sanctorum,” said the co-convener of BMMA, Noorjehan Safia Niaz, who went with other activists of the group to the shrine and hailed the right of women to pray there.

Until June 2012, women were allowed entry up to the inner area comprising the tomb of the saint but suddenly their entry was stopped by dargah authorities.

In 2014, the BMMA challenged the Trust in the courts. On August 26, Justice V M Kanade and Justice Revathi Mohite-Dhere had ruled in favour of the petitioners and directed the Trust to allow equal access to women, following which the Trust challenged it in the Supreme Court.

The High Court had held that the ban imposed by the Trust contravened Articles 143, 15 and 16 of the Constitution and said women too should be permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine.

After the Supreme Court upheld the high court’s order, The trust had sought time to make preparations to facilitate women’s entry.