Mumbai, August 26 (PTI): In a significant judgment, the Bombay High Court on Friday lifted the ban on women entering the sanctum sanctorum of the offshore Haji Ali Dargah here, saying it contravenes a person’s fundamental right to practice a religion.
The court has, however, stayed its order for six weeks following a plea by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust, which wants to challenge it in the Supreme Court.
“The ban imposed on women from entering the Haji Ali Dargah is contrary to Articles 14, 15, 19 and 25 of the Constitution of India. Women should be permitted to enter the Dargah on par with men,” a division bench comprising Justices V M Kanade and Revati Mohite Dere said.
Under the said Articles, a person is guaranteed equality before law and has the fundamental right to practice any religion he or she wants. They prohibit discrimination on grounds of religion, gender and so on, and provide freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of any religion.
The bench allowed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by two women, Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz, challenging the ban on women’s entry in the sanctum sanctorum of the Dargah.
“The state government and the Haji Ali Dargah Trust will have to take proper steps to ensure the safety and security of women entering the Dargah,” the court said.
The High Court had in June this year reserved verdict on the petition.
The PIL states that gender justice is inherent in the Quran and the decision to bar women contravenes the Hadith, which says that women are not prohibited from visiting graves. The Dargah is a grave of a Muslim saint.
The Maharashtra government had earlier told the court that women should be barred from entering the inner sanctorum of Haji Ali dargah only if it is so enshrined in the Quran.
The ban on women’s entry cannot be justified if it is only on the basis of an expert’s interpretation of the Quran, the then Maharashtra Advocate General Shrihari Aney had argued.
The Dargah’s trust had defended its stand saying that the Quran says that allowing women close to the Dargah (orgrave) of a male saint is a grievous sin.
Advocate Shoaib Memon, appearing for the trust had earlier said: “Women are not allowed inside mosques in Saudi Arabia. They are given a separate place to pray. We (the trust) have not barred women. It is simply regulated for their safety. The trust not only administers the Dargah but also manages the affairs of religion.”