Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah mosque lifted its ban on women

Women won a big victory against the patriarchy in India when the high court declared the ban on women being allowed to enter the sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah mosque in Mumbai was unconstitutional. A ban was placed in 2011 on the entry of women to the inner sanctum of the shrine which is dedicated to the remains of the Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The ban was faced with a backlash from women’s rights groups from across the country.

The shrine is one of Mumbai’s most important religious sites. Muslim and Hindu pilgrims visiting the site each week number in the tens of thousands. In 2011, the governing body of the mosque banned women from entering and touching the grave, saying it was a “grievous sin” to even allow women close to the grave of a saint. Mosque board members claimed another reason for the ban was that many women did not wear a veil on their face, which is yet another sin in the holy place.

The ban was opposed in a lawsuit filed against the shrine trust in 2014. Campaigners claimed women were allowed inside the mosque until 2011, although the trust denied such permission ever existed. Lawyers in support of the ban argued that women were still allowed to enter the shrine and offer their prayers, albeit from a separate entrance and separate prayer area.

The management also argued the ban was put in place to protect women from getting sexually harassed or groped in the crowd. As the mosque has a lot of pilgrims, board members argue that there was always a possibility women would get molested by the rush of men. Later, the board members said allowing women inside with men was sinful, thereby giving very conflicting ideas.

Whatever the reasons for the ban may have really been, the Court upheld that women had to be given equal treatment and directed the trust to lift the ban. Following this, more than 200 women entered the sanctum and offered prayers in a display of victory over sexist ideology.

Of late, a lot of protests have been carried out against places of worship in India where women are not allowed to enter. At such a time, the court’s ruling can prove to be a very strong support for women’s groups who are fighting day and night for equal treatment in India.


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