The Haji Ali mosque, built on an islet about 500 metres from the coast, can only be reached at low tide and draws tens of thousands of worshippers. The fight to allow women into the shrine gained momentum after a petition was lodged with the Supreme Court demanding access for women to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
Women have the right to enter the core or inner sanctum of Mumbai’s famous Haji Ali shrine, the Bombay High Court has ruled. However, women cannot avail of the order just yet – the trust that runs the shrine wants to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court, so today’s verdict is suspended or put on hold for six weeks.
A bench of Justice VM Kanade and Revati Mohite-Dere said the ban was against Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (no discrimination on sex, gender, religion etc) and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution.
The trustees of the 15th century shrine say it would be “a grievous sin” for women to be allowed near the tomb of the Sufi saint housed within the mosque; they imposed the ban five years ago and were taken to court by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) – a Muslim women’s rights group. They have been backed by the state government.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has spoken out against discrimination in worship and said tradition must accommodate change. The High Court today said any restriction on women at the dargah violates fundamental right to equality.
Exclusion of women in the name of religion has been the case world over and particularly in South Asia. Sati, dowry, widow ostracisation, triple talaq, servile bahudom [daughter-in-lawhood] are all unjust practices based on some or the other myth invented within the religious framework. The source can be invented at will from the Puranas or manusmriti or concocted ahadis – they are all meant to misguide society and force the women into unquestioning submission. What better way to further the male superiority fable other than customs based on religion! While some of these issues are very much real even in modern India, the exclusion of women from places of religious worship – temples and dargahs – in particular stands out.
For centuries male hegemonies have owned or presided over places of religious worship be they churches, temples, dargahs, mosques etc. This control over places of religious worship is key to the larger hegemony over women and thereby whole communities. So, when the temple trust decides that women are impure and cannot enter the chabutra [inner sanctum] an exclusionary practice becomes the norm. Suddenly in 2011 the Haji Ali Trust decided that women cannot be allowed into the mazaar [sanctum where the Pir lies buried] and this was meant to become the norm. This diktat overnight declares us women as impure and inferior and therefore we are barred from entering the mazaar and offering the chadar with our own hands.
It is another matter that till 2011, we had been going right into the mazaar and offering our prayers. Can these arbitrary rules and regulations be accepted? Would not every believer, every human being, every Indian, every muslim, every hindu question it?
What we are witnessing presently is this questioning of male hegemonies, be it the Shani Mandir, Sabarimala or Haji Ali. Fortunately, there are enough number of citizens of India, both hindus and muslims who are not willing to accept such misogynist practices in the name of religion. For one, it is a violation of religious tenets of justice and equality. Secondly, it is also a violation of the Constitutional principles of justice irrespective of gender and sex. Places of religious worship are public places and they cannot be permitted to violate the rights of citizens on account of their gender or sex.
The courts are upholding the highest principles of justice and equality and they are a great source of inspiration for all who believe in equality of the sexes. It is heartening that Haji Ali Sabke Liye has citizens from all faith backgrounds – hindus, muslims, Christians, Sikhs, parsi – men and women who have decided to join the fight for justice. It includes citizens from all sections of society – activists, writers, thinkers, film makers, scholars, academics, business persons, students, lawyers, IT professionals, shop owners – a slice of our multi-cultural multi-religious society! Along with Trupti Desai and her group these citizens have decided to stand up and be counted for womens’ equality in religion.