Activists and academics have condemned as “unacceptable” the Lucknow administration’s decision to implement a dress code for women who wish to explore Bara Imam Bara, a heritage building here.

On Monday, the local administration made it mandatory for women to cover their heads before entering the site, built in the late 18th century by Nawab Asad-ud-Daulah, citing its religious importance to Shia Muslims.

In a letter to Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Dhananjay Yashwant Chandrachud, citizens, cutting across professions, argued that Imam Bara, in its entirety, is “not a religious site but a cultural heritage not belonging to any particular community.” Hence, a visit to monuments and sites protected by the Archaeological Survey of India could not be made “private” with the “autocratic rules of religious groups.”

Pointing out that Imam Bara has been visited by people of all faiths, they said head cover “should not be imposed [on women] but [should] be a matter of choice.”

The citizens appealed to the court to intervene and get the decision, criticised by women’s groups, withdrawn.

Maulana Hameed-ul Hasan, a prominent Shia cleric, has however, defended the rule, saying the custom of women entering Imam Bara with their heads covered is old and well-known. It “has just been formalised now.”