In a victory for equal right to worship for women, the Haji Ali Dargah Trust on Monday conceded before the Supreme Court that it has resolved to allow women to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the famed dargah in Mumbai “at par with men”.
In a hearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, the Trust said it has come around and passed a resolution on October 11, 2016 to comply with a Bombay High Court judgment to give women equal access like men.
“Is that not what Your Lordships wanted? Is this not progressive?” senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, representing the Trust, asked the Bench.
Disposing off the challenge raised by the Trust against the High Court decision, the Supreme Court allowed the Trust two weeks' time to remove certain structural obstructions inside the dargah to give women unrestricted view of the sanctum sanctorum. The Bench directed that any "default or neglect" in compliance by the Trust can be raised before the High Court.
The hearing however saw the court nudge the Trust on why it had separate entrances for men and women into the dargah.
“There may be women who do not want separate entrances. Why do you have to distinguish between man and woman here?” Chief Justice Thakur queried.
The court set the tone for the hearing when it conveyed to Mr. Subramanium its disinclination to hear expostulations based on doctrines and academic texts about the customs of the dargah. Chief Justice Thakur said the court only wanted to know from Mr. Subramanium whether “women would be given access to the sanctum like men or not”.
In the previous hearing, the Supreme Court had taken a serious view of the religious “exclusion and restrictions” women suffer. It had pointed to Kerala's Sabarimala temple and the Haji Ali dargah to note that 'exclusion' was practised by both Hindus and Muslims and the "problem needs to be addressed''.
"Exclusion is not there if nobody is allowed after a certain point. There is exclusion if women are not allowed after a certain point and men are," Chief Justice Thakur had defined the term.
The Bombay High Court had on August 26 held that the ban imposed by the Dargah Trust, prohibiting women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah, contravened Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution and said women should be permitted to enter the sanctum sanctorum like men.
The High Court had ruled this on a PIL plea filed by two women from the NGO Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. It had held that the Trust had no power to alter or modify the mode or manner of religious practices of any individual or any group.