Millennium Post

Following through

In a significant development, the Haji Ali Trust on Monday told the Apex Court that it would implement the Bombay High Court order that lifted the ban women’s entry inside the dargah’s inner sanctum. The landmark decision comes a week after the top court had twice extended the stay on women's entry into the shrine. The trust had sought more time to come to a decision on the matter. Back in August, the Bombay High Court had found that preventing women from entering the dargah is in contravention of Articles 14, 15, 19, and 25 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with the right to equality, the right against discrimination based on gender, freedom of movement, and freedom of religion. This claim was strongly resisted by dargah authorities, who had invoked the religious freedom provisions of the Constitution, as well as insisting that it was only following the commandments of the Shariat. In 2011, the shrine's trust had banned women from entering the mausoleum, saying it was a "grievous sin" in Islam for women to be in proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint. Instead of dwelling on deeper philosophical questions of Islam and its relationship with gender, the High Court chose to address the bare legal aspects of the case. At the heart of the matter was a clash between two provisions stated in the Constitution. Under Article 25 (1) of the Constitution, all citizens are guaranteed the right to “freely profess, practice, and propagate religion”. However, under Article 26 (b), every religious denomination has the “right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion”. The women excluded from the inner sanctum of the dargah claimed that the religious body had violated their fundamental right under Article 25 (1). Meanwhile, the Dargah Trust had argued that since Islam instructed the exclusion of women from the inner sanctum of dargahs, its actions were protected by Article 25 (1). The court took cognizance of the material placed on record by the Dargah authorities, which included excerpts from the Quran and Hadith. In its final adjudication, the court found that none of the material placed on record instructed that women should be excluded from shrines. Religious diktats cannot be insulated from secular laws. Tradition should also be subject to the scrutiny of secular laws based on the Constitution. No law prevents women from entering a place of worship. Such acts of prohibition encourage gender disparity and are arbitrary, illegal, and violate the fundamental rights of a citizen.
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