New Delhi: The Jama Masjid administration's decision restricting entry of girls into the famed mosque led to an outrage on Thursday and the order was finally withdrawn following Delhi Lieutenant Governor (LG) V K Saxena's request to the Shahi Imam.
The notice, which had no date, came up a few days ago outside the three main entry gates of the 17th-century Mughal-era mosque that attracts thousands of devout as well as tourists, sources in the administration said. However, it had come to attention only now.
"Jama Masjid mein ladki ya ladkiyon ka akele daakhla mana hai (The entry of a girl, or girls is not permitted in Jama Masjid)," read the notice.
Earlier in the day, Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari said the decision was taken after some "incidents" were reported on the premises of the heritage structure but it was not applicable to those coming to offer prayers.
"Jama Masjid is a place of worship and people are welcome for that. But girls coming alone and waiting for their dates... this is not what this place is meant for. The restriction is on that," Bukhari told PTI.
"Any such place, be it a mosque, temple or gurudwara is a place of worship (ibadat ki jagah hai) and there is no restriction on anyone coming for that purpose. Just today, a group of 20-25 girls visited and they were allowed to enter," Bukhari added.
A controversy erupted over the issue with women's rights activists terming the mosque's decision regressive and unacceptable.
Later in the evening, Shahi Imam withdrew the order, after Delhi LG Saxena spoke to him and requested him to take back the decree.
"The LG spoke to me. We have removed the notice boards. But people visiting the mosque have to maintain its sanctity," Bukhari said.
Taking strong exception to the mosque's order, the National Commission for Women (NCW) asked the Centre and the Delhi government to take appropriate action against the ban, while Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) chief Swati Maliwal termed it a violation of women's rights and sought a detailed action taken report in the matter by November 28.
'Masjid not place to make videos'
Jama Masjid spokesperson Sabiullah Khan earlier in the day said there are women who give time to someone and come to Jama Masjid to make videos.
"It is a place of worship and not a meeting place. People who come there to worship are welcome," Khan told PTI.
He said teams would be deployed that will ask visitors the purpose of their visit and if the reason is not appropriate, they will be asked to return.
"If they are coming there for a tourist visit, they will be allowed but not for shooting videos or if they are found indulging in 'inappropriate' actions," he added.
In the past, music video shoots by visitors were prohibited. An old board outside the entry gate facing the busy Matia Mahal area bears the message: "Music video shoot is strictly prohibited inside the mosque".
During the day, Maliwal on Twitter said, "It is completely wrong to ban the entry of women in Jama Masjid. The kind of rights a man has to pray, women also have the same rights."
"I am issuing a notice to the Imam of Jama Masjid. Nobody has the right to ban entry of women in this way," she tweeted earlier in the day. In a video, the panel's chief said that it was a "shameful" and "unconstitutional" act.
"What do they feel? This is not India. This is Iraq? Nobody will raise a voice against discrimination meted out to women openly... Nobody is above the Constitution. For such a Talibanesque act, we have issued a notice to them. We will ensure that this ban is withdrawn," Maliwal said in the video.
The panel, in its notice, has sought details on the reasons for prohibiting the entry of women and girls "without male companions" in the Jama Masjid and the person responsible for restricting the entry of women and girls.
"If the decision was taken in a meeting, please provide a copy of the minutes of the meeting. Steps taken by authorities now for removing the restriction imposed on the entry of women and girls," it said.
Women rights activists hit out at the mosque's administration, saying it takes women centuries back.
Ranjana Kumari, an activist, said this is completely unacceptable. "What kind of 10th-century mindset is this. We are a democratic country how can they do this. How can they bar women," she told PTI.
"This diktat takes us 100 years back. This is not just regressive but shows what kind of mindset these religious groups have about girls. It is extremely unfortunate," Yogita Bhayana, another women's rights activist, said.
RSS-affiliate Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) also waded into the controversy, terming the move as anti-women and unconstitutional and demanded the mosque's administration withdraw its decision.
"It's an anti-woman, anti-Constitution move. The notices banning the entry of girls into Jama Masjid should immediately be withdrawn," VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal said.