In a landmark verdict, the Bombay High Court has ruled that women must be allowed into the sanctum sanctorum of the 15th century Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. The judgment came on a plea filed by Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, co-founders of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in 2014. It will not come into effect immediately since the court has granted six-week stay to let the Haji Ali Dargah Trust appeal in the Supreme Court.
It’s interesting to note that the ban on the entry of women was imposed as recently as 2012. In its arguments before the court, the trust cited the Sharia law and termed the ban as merely a ‘correction’ or an ‘amendment’ to the practice of letting in both the sexes into the sanctum sanctorum. Some trust members contended that as per the Sharia law no woman can visit a cemetery or a grave. In other words, the ban was brought in, based on an interpretation of the holy texts. However, the court, which had earlier ruled that no law could prevent women from worshipping at the Shani Shingnapur temple, found that the ban was in violation of Article 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution.
The verdict raises an important question: should courts interfere in religious affairs? The answer to it is in the verdict itself. If religious and social practices are in violation of Constitutional rights bestowed upon women or for that matter anyone, the judiciary is duty-bound to interfere. And, the executive is equally duty-bound to uphold the rights. But, at the end of the day, law can only be an enabler. The challenge lies in enforcement and that requires more than just law enforcement agencies. Any social reform would be long lasting only if it comes from the society itself. As such, religious and community leaders should be roped in and obscurantists isolated.