Maharashtra dithers on plea to lift curb on women in Haji Ali dargah

PIL argues that Haji Ali Dargah trustees decided to bar women from the sanctum sanctorum after 2012, following advice of some clerics.

Updated - September 20, 2016 02:06 am IST

Published - July 11, 2015 03:51 am IST - MUMBAI

The Maharashtra government has washed its hands of a public interest litigation petition against the restrictions on women entering the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Haji Ali Dargah here. “The State has not filed a reply so far, and it does not want to file [one],” a Division Bench of Justices V.M. Kanade and B.P. Colabawalla said at the hearing on Friday.

Referring to a letter of Mohammed Arif Naseem Khan, former Minister for Minority Development, the Bench said: “From the tenor of the letter, it is clear that the State government wants to sit on the fence… .”

The petition, filed by two joint-founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, argued that the Haji Ali Dargah trustees decided to bar women from the sanctum sanctorum after 2012, following the advice of some clerics. When the petitioners approached the Minister, Mr. Khan told them to plead their case with the muftis and the maulanas.

“We are only asking for restoration of status quo ante. The State cannot remain a silent spectator. This is gender discrimination,” advocate Raju Moray, representing the petitioners, told the court.

The trustees contested the claim that prior to 2012, women were permitted so far as the sanctum sanctorum . In an affidavit earlier, the dargah said many religions imposed restrictions on women because of menstruation.

The threat of sexual harassment by men was cited as another reason. The court said: “Stoking religious sentiments can give rise to further complications. See if it can be sorted out.”

However, it held that the petition was maintainable and decided to hear it next on July 21.

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