Haji Ali women's entry issue simmers; words fly before proposed agitation

The movement to allow women's entry into the Haji Ali dargah's sanctum sanctorum took a new, acrimonious twist recently. Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh, located next to the Azad Maidan was the venue of conference on April 20, where 50 activists from a forum called Haji Ali Sab Ke Liye (Haji Ali for all), raising the clarion call for women's entry into the dargah.

This group, includes the firebrand Trupti Desai, fresh from her Shani Shingnapur win, and a number of activists, including Javed Anand who claimed it was full of "progressive individuals".

The activists from a forum called Haji Ali Sab Ke Liye (Haji Ali for all), raising the clarion call for women’s entry into the dargah. The group planned to have a dharna outside Haji Ali on April 28

The group planned to have a dharna outside Haji Ali on April 28. The heat is on, with Shiv Sena senior leader Haji Arafat Shaikh, saying he would "welcome with slippers" Desai if she dared to enter the tomb of the Haji Ali Dargah on Thursday. Though Shiv Sena distanced itself from the remarks, Shaikh played said he is speaking as a Muslim, bringing a new spin into the issue.

Trupti Desai
Trupti Desai

Extraordinary matter
Suhail Khandwani, trustee of Haji Ali dargah trust said that, "these are the emotions and feelings of a Muslim person. We cannot comment on any individual's feelings. This is an extraordinary matter and we must respect the court's orders. People are jumping on the bandwagon because of publicity and an unnecessary hue and cry is being made. People who talk, must have knowledge of both, Islam as well as, the law."

An angry Khandwani added the dargah trust, "has law abiding people. I saw on television programmes people stating that they will come to Haji Ali, drink juice at Haji Ali juice centre and leave. What is the meaning of this? Obviously, a publicity stunt for some."

'Haji Ali for All'
Khandwani also said that it is 'Haji Ali for All', which, is a fundamentalist group. Lawyer Rizwan Merchant explained, "Women are allowed into the Haji Ali dargah, but men and women have separate spaces to pray. The area is divided by the donation boxes. The women have 275 sq feet to pray, I am saying why not just Trupti Desai, invite the world to come and pray here, but observing all rules." Merchant said, "agitations and dharnas will be against public order."

He cited legal articles stating that public order, morality and health were paramount and the Muslim community is upset by all the controversy.

Trupti Desai, though said that, "we are going to hold an andolan at the dargah on April 28, on the equality of men and women plank."

Rejecting that this was becoming a Hindu-Muslim issue, she stated, "I will fight for my Muslim sisters. We are not scared. If women were allowed access till 2011, why were they suddenly stopped? It is the dadagiri (high-handedness) of the trustees. This is not about any religion, it is about combating injustice."

When asked to respond to the allegation that she is doing this for publicity, Desai shot back, "Nobody puts their life on the line for publicity."

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