New Delhi: The Central government has said that persons with disabilities cannot go on Hajj through the Ministry of Minority Affairs’ Haj Committee of India. The reason: they may go and beg there.
The bar has been introduced“in view of instances of many such people indulging in begging, which is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia”, the Centre said in an affidavit in the Delhi high court on Wednesday (April 11), according to the Indian Express.
Saudi Arabia however does not impose any restrictions on persons with disabilities who want to go on Hajj. In fact, the country has been making efforts to ensure that there are special facilities for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
The bar on persons with disabilities was part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ renewed guidelines for Hajj pilgrims for 2018-22. This is a part of the guidelines:
“Any Muslim citizen of India can apply for Hajj pilgrimage except persons suffering from polio, tuberculosis, congestive cardiac and respiratory ailment, AIDS, leprosy, acute coronary insufficiency, coronary thrombosis, mental disorder…’, further adding to the list of people disqualified to apply ‘persons who are crippled, handicapped, lunatic or otherwise physically incapacitated or suffering from amputation of legs’.”
Disability rights activists have slammed these restrictions, labelling them blatantly discriminatory, which violate the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (RPDA).
Gaurav Kumar Bansal, a Supreme Court advocate, had filed a petition in the Delhi high court alleging that the restrictions violate the RPDA and Articles 14, 21 and 25 of the constitution pertaining to equality, personal liberty and religious freedom. Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Hari Shankar had asked the Centre to respond to the petition.
The guidelines had also been criticised for using derogatory words such as ‘lunatic’ and ‘cripple.’ Activists had written a letter to minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi demanding scrapping of these provisions. No action however has so far been taken to address these criticisms.
The Centre has in fact defended the words used in the guidelines, saying, “It is important to understand the clientele which these guidelines target, a large number of whom are not educated and understand only Urdu or Hindi. Given this background, these wordings might have been used for understanding of the common applicant.”
Standing counsel for the Union of India and the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Ajay Digpaul, was quoted by Indian Express as saying that should be read in its entirety. “Our affidavit also states that Haj is to be undertaken by those who are physically fit, since it is a rigorous pilgrimage. Moreover, the government has done a lot for the cause of those with disabilities in its amended RPWD Act which recognises 21 types of disabilities as against the seven earlier.”
Activists maintain that the ban is unfair and discriminatory, and should be done away with.