New Delhi: It was a moment of celebration outside the Bombay High Court as the verdict allowing women to enter the tomb area of the centuries-old Haji Ali Dargah was announced on Friday morning. Ironically, missing from this scene were 46-year-old Noorjehan Safia Niaz and 51-year-old Zakia Soman – the two petitioners who led the four-year long legal battle against the ban by the Dargah’s trust.
“I received a call from Mumbai in the morning. I had no idea what was this about until I was told that court has allowed women to enter the tomb area of Haji Ali Dargah. I was so happy. I just wanted to fly back to Mumbai in a flash,” Niaz, who’s in Kerala for a training camp, told ScoopWhoop News over phone.
Zakia Soman was at her home in Ahmedabad. She had no idea about the court hearing on Friday.
“Our legal team was at the Bombay High Court. They called up me when the court’s ruling came,” Soman told ScoopWhoop News over phone.
But the distance didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm.
For Niaz, the verdict was something personal.
“I had been visiting the shrine of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari since my childhood. Then suddenly, one day in June 2012, the Dargah’s managing body stopped women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Dargah. They said it’s ‘un-islamic’ to allow women near the graves,” Niaz said.
The ban resulted in a standoff between Muslim women and the Dargah’s trust after a women group, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), co-founded by Niaz filed a petition against the ban in Bombay High Court. After four years of legal battle, the court on Friday ruled that the ban violates the fundamental rights of a citizen and ordered that “women should be permitted to enter the Dargah on par with men.”
“It’s a historic judgement. And it’s a victory of democratic and Quranic values of equality. All the women should feel proud today. It’s their victory as well,” Niaz remarked.
According to Niaz, the judgement will instill new confidence in her fight for the upliftment and empowerment of Muslim women in the country.
A post-graduate in Social Work and a mother of two sons, Niaz had a passion for working towards the cause of social justice since her early life.
She also got a job in Social Welfare Department of the state government.But it didn’t work out.
“I wanted to do something for Muslim women. Despite decades of Independence, the socio-economic condition of Muslim community, particularly women, is appalling. It was from an experience of denial from government and Muslim clergy that I decided to have a platform for Muslim women,” Niaz said, while explaining the idea behind the foundation of BMMA in 2007.
While the Friday’s judgement marks a significant achievement for Muslim women, according to Niaz, there’s still a long way to go.
Zakia Soman agrees with Niaz’s assertion. Even though the two live more than 500 kilometres far, their destinations are same.
“Following the Gujarat riots, I was very concerned about the plight of Muslim women in the state. There’s no mechanism for redressal of grievances or ways to raise voice over an issue,” Soman, an ex-university lecturer and a mother of a son, told ScoopWhoop News.
By establishing BMMA, Soman says, they are fighting a “two-pronged” battle.
“One’s against the government’s failure to address our issues and the other is the patriarchy-dominated Muslim clergy who aren’t allowing women to become independent and explore new spaces,” said Soman.
Nearly nine years after BMMA became a reality, the women group has crossed over to 13 states of the country with a 1 lakh membership, majority of them women. The group was in news recently for its legal battle against the controversial practice of ‘Triple Talaq’ in Muslim community.
Eventually, Soman left her university job and got involved with the group’s work full-time. In her struggle to strike a balance between her family and activism, Soman has found support from her husband and son.
“They are proud of me. My biggest support is my son,” said Soman.
Feature image source: Zakia Soman