“Women be permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah at par with men”, ruled the Bombay High Court on Friday in a landmark verdict allowing the entry of women up to the mazar in the revered Sufi dargah in south central Mumbai.
However, the Division Bench of Justices V.M. Kanade and Revati Mohite-Dere granted a six-week stay on the order on a request by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust to enable it to go on appeal before the Supreme Court.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, co-founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, in November 2014.
Setting a precedent in allowing women to enter religious places, the court said that the ban order by the Trust contravened Article 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution.
The Bench said: “The Trust is always at liberty to take steps to prevent sexual harassment of women, by having separate queues for men and women, as was done earlier.”
The HC said the Trust cannot enforce a ban “contrary to the fundamental rights” enshrined in the Constitution.
“The objects of the Haji Ali Dargah Trust are in respect of purely secular activities of a non-religious nature, such as giving loans, education, medical facilities, etc. Neither the objects nor the scheme vests any power in the trustees to determine matters of religion, on the basis of which entry of women is being restricted,” said the Division Bench of Justices V.M. Kanade and Revati Mohite-Dere.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation petition filed by Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, co-founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, in November 2014.
‘Open to all people’
The landmark verdict read: “The Trust has no power to alter or modify the mode or manner of religious practices of any individual or any group. Admittedly, 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.
“It is also the duty of the State to ensure the safety and security of the women at such places. The State is equally under an obligation to ensure that the fundamental rights are protected and that the right of access into the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah is not denied to women.”