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Right to worship

In consonance with its desire to promote gender equality in places of religious worship, the Mumbai High Court on Friday lifted a ban that barred women from entering the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah. However, it stayed the order for six weeks after the Haji Ali trust sought time to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court. It 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. 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 close proximity to the grave of a male Muslim saint. Back in April, the Supreme Court asserted that it would decide on the right of women to enter the historic Sabarimala shrine in Kerala on the basis of constitutional principles and not by the prevalent customary practices. The court slammed temple authorities for imposing a ban on the entry of women. It asked whether such archaic traditions were more important than constitutional rights. Gender discrimination in such a matter was unacceptable, it said. Only females over the age of 50 and under the age of 10 are allowed inside the temple. The rule is aimed at keeping menstruating women away from the premises as they are considered "impure" by a conservative section of Hindu society. The matter is now being heard in the apex court. Religious diktats cannot be insulated from secular laws. Tradition should be subject to the scrutiny of laws based on the Constitution. Earlier this year, the Mumbai High Court presented a similar judgment in the case of Maharashtra's Shani Shingnapur temple, where women were disallowed from entering its sanctum sanctorum. It said that there is no law that prevents women from entering a place of worship.
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