I went to Haji Ali Dargah in 2012. I was stopped from going to the Mazar on the pretext that entry of women was not permitted. I was taken aback to know this because in 2011, I went upto the Mazar sans any restriction. In fact, I have been going there since my childhood for prayer. What happened suddenly that entry of women was barred here?
I talked to the trustees of Haji Ali Trust. They told me different reasons. Some said women cannot go to the Mazar, others took exception to clothes they wear; still some others said that women cannot visit the Mazar, it is against Islam. I did not find these reasons palatable. Then I consulted to the Government of Maharashtra. I told them Haji Ali Trust is not a private trust, it is a public trust. Trust cannot impose personal decisions on visitors. Trust is responsible for maintenance of the Dargah and to take decisions in this regard, but it is not within its preview to take religious decisions. They cannot stop women to visit the Mazar. The government did not pay heed to our pleas. We received some support from the Minority department but no justice was meted to women. Then we moved to the court. In August 2014, we filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court with a request to restore the fundamental and constitutional rights of women. We are hopeful of the justice from the court.
Haji Ali Dargah is Mumbai’s distinguished land mark. This place is visited not only by the men and women from different parts of Bharat but also from abroad. The Dargah contains Mazar of Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. People visiting here have their own memories associated with their each visit.
However, the most unfortunate thing is everyone places religion first on this issue. They distort the religious tenets and present them. They say that women should not visit the Mazar. In reality there is no such thing mentioned in the Holy Quran. Women are granted equal rights.
Our movement is generating increased support from women. They are thinking of their constitutional rights with a hope. They are getting educated and showing their skills in various fields. Why should they be restricted in matters of religion then? The Constitution is granting permission to them to go in all the fields. This is wrong and unlawful to stop them from going places only because they are women. It is wrong to impose such restrictions. We are putting this argument before the court because the Minority Commission is not ready to listen to our pleas.
Whether it is a Dargah or a Temple, the fundamental rights of women are being trampled everywhere. They are being prohibited for entering into Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra and Sabrimala Temple in Kerala. Why this restriction in the name of religion and tradition? This is also a kind of exploitation of women. When we met the then Maharashtra Minority Minister Naseem Khan on Haji Ali Dargah issue, he refused to support us on the pretext that this is a religious matter. When the government harbours such an attitude how can women expect to get justice? How can they live in such a society?
Women are being exploited in every religion. Probably this is the reason that earned us support from organisations like Waghini, Sufi Vichar Manch and Wisdom Foundation. They participated with us in our Azad Maidan demonstrations for entry into Haji Ali Dargah Mazar. Exploited women of Muslim and Dalit communities were raising their united voice against this discrimination. This was a new face of Muslim-Dalit women visible to the society. This is entirely women’s agitation.
There are many Muslim women organisations since 70s, but they do not raise the issue of religious rights of Muslim women. They do not even want a discussion on it. Women too have a religious identity. They should get their constitutional rights.
Dr Noorjahan Niyaz
Founder, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (As told to Kanchan Gupta)