HC allows women’s entry into Haji Ali inner sanctum, trust to appeal verdict

The Bombay high court struck down on Friday a ban on women’s entry into the Haji Ali Dargah’s inner sanctum, a landmark verdict in a country where female worshippers are still barred in many religious places.
The court said the ban violated women’s fundamental rights and asked the state to ensure protection for female devotees, granting the trust six weeks to implement the order.
A bench of justice VM Kanade and Revati Mohite-Dere said the ban was against Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (no discrimination on sex, gender, religion etc) and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution.
The court directed the Haji Ali trust to grant access inside the shrine to “women at par with men” but the latter indicated it will appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court.
The decision came on a petition by a Muslim women’s foundation that asked the court to restore the shrine’s regulations to 2012, when women were allowed into the sanctum sanctorum albeit through separate queues and at restricted timings.
During the last hearing, then advocate general of Maharashtra, Shrihari Aney, had said women have an “unfettered” right to worship and that no trust or organisation must attempt to infringe upon such a Right.
The trust had justified the ban, arguing the restriction was an integral part of Islam as the Quran says women must not touch the tombs of male saints.
It had also said that by disallowing women from entering the sanctum sanctorum, the trust was saving women from much jostling, overcrowding, unwanted touch and even possible theft.
Friday’s verdict is part of a larger campaign for allowing women entry into shrines and strike down what activists say is regressive gender bias among religious leaders.
Earlier this year, activist Tripti Desai and hundreds of women entered the holy Shani Shani temple in Maharashtra.
A case for lifting a similar decades-old ban at Kerala’s Sabarimala shrine is being heard by the Supreme Court.
Women aged between 10 and 50 years (women in menstrual age) are not allowed to the famous the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple situated at a hilltop because the deity is a celibate (Naisthik Brahmachari).
The Kerala government and the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the temple are defending the age-old tradition under challenge on the ground that it violated women’s right to equality.
But the top court has come down heavily on the trust, asking if menstruation – a biological phenomenon could be grounds for “discrimination”.
“Do you to mean to say that mensuration is associated with purity of women? You are making distinction based on purity… Now the question is whether the Constitutional principles allow this?” the top court asked.