The "Haji Ali Sab Ke Liye" group has been fighting to allow women to gain entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. In July 2016, the Bombay High Court begins hearings on a petition filed by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andholan, Mumbai, to allow women to access the dargah.
What about other dargahs in the country?
The video above was made during a visit by members of the group on the invitation of Professor Syed Liyaqat Hussain Moini, who is one of the custodians of the Ajmer Sharif dargah in Rajasthan. It shows how women at the shrine commemorating one of the most revered Sufi saints are granted free access to the sanctum sanctorum. "Ajmer Sharif is the biggest dargah in India. Hindus, Shias, Sikhs, all are allowed here," says Moini.
In the video, the filmmaker says, "Not only are women allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum, but mostly it is the women who offer chadars to the saint, seeking his benediction for their families." The women members of the delegation themselves go to the sanctum sanctorum to donate chadars. The only thing people seem to be resistant to is the presence of the camera.
Of the experience, Varsha Vilas said in an interview to The Times of India, "Men and women devotees visited the sanctum together. Nobody was pushed and there was no threat of any harassment to women."
In response, Haji Ali dargah trustee Shailesh Khandwani said to DNA, "You cannot compare the functioning of one trust with another under the pretext of enforcement of fundamental rights. The very fact that they have no knowledge of the difference between Sufism and Wahabism shows that the agenda of this group is nothing but to fan the communal flames under the pretext of fighting for women's rights, and unfortunately, the media is giving them a platform to do it. It's the constitutional right of the trust, being a religious domination, to address concerns of security and safety of devotees in a manner it considers appropriate. No outsider can be allowed to interfere in the trust's affairs, be it the administration or anyone else."
Says activist Firoze Mithiborewala says, "Our essential demand is that women be allowed into the Haji Ali dargah, as they were allowed in 2011, as they are allowed in Mecca." On being asked whether this is infringing on Constitutional rights he adds, "The Constitution of India gives rights to religious minorities to practise their religion, that is true. But that doesn't mean that they can discriminate against any section of their community. And that is why the Muslim women are going to the Supreme Court to ban triple talaaq and that is also part of that discrimination."
Counters the Western Maharastra President of the Awami Vikas Party, "We are against what is happening as a publicity stunt. We are trying to protect Sharia law. We shouldn't be speaking about religion when there is a drought in Maharashtra and many other more important women's issues need to be dealt with."