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Haji Ali Dargah has every right to ban women: Congress leader

MUMBAI: The grand old party Congress, which is already reeling into Augusta Westland chopper controversy, raked up another one on Sunday, when one of its senior leaders hailed the ban on women in the sanctum sanctorum of Mumbai’s famous Haji Ali Dargah. Nizamuddin Rayeen, chief of Mumbai Congress’ minority, also condemned efforts of the activists seeking “an equal right to pray”.

Calling the ban a “religious matter” of the community, Rayeen said, “The whole activism around the Haji Ali Dargah is being projected as gender discrimination, which is a wrong narrative. It is a religious matter. Why should others, such as Trupti Desai, be bothered about it?”

Supporting the dargah management’s decision, Rayeen also condemned the activists and NGOs for launching a movement seeking equal rights for women in the shrine. “It is under the purview of the dargah management, whom they allow in the premises and till what line. They have every right to do that,” said Rayeen, while speaking to dna.

“If the activists really have faith in Haji Ali, they can pray outside the shrine or even sitting at home. Mann changa toh kathoti mein Ganga. They are creating a fuss only to malign the name of such a prestigious religious place,” said Rayeen, targeting Bhumata Brigade and Haji Ali for All forum, which had protested in front of the shrine 10 days ago, demanding that women be allowed in the core area. A case in this regard is pending at the Bombay High Court.

When told that women were allowed in Ajmer and Deva Sharif dargahs and many other shrines and mosques in the world, and calling it a religious matter was a flawed argument as suggested by even the Islamic scholars, Rayeen said, “Once allowed inside, these activists would then want to do a kirtan in the dargah. There is no limit to freedom.”

He added that women were barred from the core area in many shrines and mosques in the country, and Haji Ali was not an exception. “Islam prohibits consumption of alcohol but many Muslims drink. This doesn’t mean that prohibition should be scrapped.” He added that the petition in the high court had no ground.

Rayeen insisted that this was the official stand of the Congress’s Minority Cell. This is for the first time that the Congress has come out openly supporting the dargah management’s decision of 2011, through which women’s entry inside the sanctum was barred.

So, why now? “We were silent as Shiv Sena leader Haji Arafat and AIMIM and Samajwadi Party had already come out in support of the ban. Now people want to know our stand, hence I am speaking,” justified Rayeen, highlighting the tussle among political parties for the vote bank ahead of Mumbai’s civic elections next year.

He also condemned protests by Desai at Hindu temples. “Even temples are free to frame rules based on tradition. Forcibly entering the sanctum sanctorum of Trimbakeshawar and Shani temples has nothing to do with justice for women. It serves only political purpose. If these women and NGOs really want to fight for women, they should focus their energy on drought areas, where women are facing serious problems.”

Rayeen also accused chief Minister Devendra Fadnvais of supporting the activists. “He is the man who is indirectly supporting the Bhumata Brigade and other NGOs to fuel controversies and distract people from the real issues. Fadnavis has failed miserably in tackling drought. The Make in India proposals, which he claims as his major achievement, also turned out to be fake. So he needs such activism, so that people remain busy in these frivolous issues and he can hide his failures.”