The Haji Ali Dargah Trust has decided to disallow both men and women from touching the sanctum sanctorum at the shrine as part of its proposal to ensure gender equality among worshippers.
An affidavit and a map submitted by the trust in the Supreme Court (SC) described how it would construct a restricted area around the tomb, called the “mujawar area”, where only “khadims” would be allowed to make offerings. Neither men nor women would be allowed inside the zone, it clarified.
The religious establishment has been at the centre of a controversy ever since women’s groups, led by Bhumata Brigade president Trupti Desai, raised their voice against what they perceived as gender discrimination in its premises.
According to the reconstruction plan, the mujawar area would extend to a sizeable 12 square metres around the tomb. “The trustees believe in complete equality of men and women, as envisaged in Islam. To give effect to the said principle of equality, we have decided that both men and women shall be allowed to enter the room that houses the sanctum sanctorum of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari right up to the sanctum. However, neither men nor women will be allowed to touch the sanctum sanctorum,” the resolution stated.
The new scheme, based on the “concept of equality between men and women in Islam”, was cleared by the trust on October 11 in view of an SC observation that women worshippers should not be discriminated against.
The trust had moved the apex court against a Bombay high court (HC) verdict ordering a status quo ante – meaning “a reversion to the previously existing state of affairs” – at the shrine. The SC upheld the judgment on October 29. Though the apex court did not scrutinise the new proposal, it recorded the trust’s undertaking to implement the HC direction – giving it two weeks to do so.
However, doubts prevailed whether the proposed arrangement amounts to effecting the “status quo ante”, as prescribed by the high court.
Advocate Amita, who represented the organisation fighting for women’s rights in the SC, wanted a debate on the decision. “It violates the HC order, which clearly states that the position existing before 2012 – under which women could go up to the tomb – be restored. And the SC did not alter any of the HC’s findings,” she said.
However, the advocates representing the trust in the SC disputed the contention. “Nobody is allowed to touch the tomb except khadims. The position prior to 2012 was that women could come inside up to a certain point… Now, they will be allowed to come in through a separate entry,” one of them told HT.
Amita disagreed. According to her, the trust never told the HC that nobody was allowed to touch the tomb.
The trust’s affidavit before the SC also said women were discouraged from going to dargahs, though there was no “active prohibition”. And that is why there is segregation in the place of worship. Referring to the Holy Quran, the affidavit stated: “Islam believes in equality among men and women. However, segregation between the sexes in the place of worship is contemplated.”