Mumbai: In a landmark judgement, the Bombay high court today ruled that women are permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah “on par with men.”
The verdict comes in response to a PIL filed by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in 2014.
The court restored the status quo ante, as before 2012, when women were allowed entry. The petitioners had contended that the ban was imposed in 2012.
A division bench of Justices V.M. Kanade and Revati Mohite Dere held that the ban on women’s entry imposed by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust “contravenes Articles 14, 15 and 25” of the constitution, pertaining respectively to equality before law, prohibition of discrimination and freedom to practice religion.
“The Haji Ali Dargah Trust is a public charitable trust. It is open to people all over the world, irrespective of their caste, creed or sex etc. Once a public character is attached to a place of worship, all the rigors of Article 14, 15 and 25 come into play and the Trust cannot justify its decision solely based on a misreading of Article 26 (freedom to manage religious affairs). The Trust has no right to discriminate entry of women into a public place of worship under the guise of ‘managing the affairs of religion’…The right to manage the Trust cannot override the right to practice religion itself,” the court observed.
Rejecting the trust’s reasons for the ban based on sexual harassment, the court directed the state and the trust to take steps to ensure the safety of women entering the inner sanctum.
“It is stated that the said ban is in keeping with the decision of the apex court wherein stringent directions have been issued to ensure that there is no sexual harassment to women at places of worship. This submission is completely misplaced and misconceived and reliance on the said judgement is completely out of context…The Trust, under the guise of providing security and ensuring safety of women from sexual harassment, cannot justify the ban and prevent women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah.”
The court gave a stay of six weeks on the implementation of the order, during which the trust can approach the Supreme Court.
Welcoming the verdict, Noorjehan Safia Niaz of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Nadola, who is the petitioner in the case told The Wire, “It is a wonderful development. It was expected. We are very happy. This decision will help similar petitions in future. It is a big victory for the women’s movement.”
Activist and columnist Javed Anand, who jointly initiated the Haji Ali For All Forum, to gather support for the movement said, “The order upholds the constitutional principles of non-discrimination on the basis of gender. We are extremely hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the verdict of the Bombay High Court.”
Women’s activist Trupti Desai, of the Shani Shingnapur fame, who visited the Haji Ali shrine in May this year, amid protests, hailed the verdict as a victory of “nari shakti” (women power).
“It is a historic judgement. We had to launch an andolan for equality. Our opponents derided us and tried to give a religious colour to our agitation. The verdict is in favour of women’s rights and it will be upheld by the Supreme Court,” Ms. Desai, who leads the Bhumata Ragini Brigade, told The Wire.
Meanwhile, lawyer Rizwan Merchant, one of the trustees, said the trust would be able to comment only after reading the whole judgement.