The landmark judgement of the Bombay High Court allowing women to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the famous Haji Ali shrine has brought cheer to not just Muslim women, but the entire progressive society. The matter was being closely followed not just in India, but also internationally. But what is barely known is the fact that the Maharashtra government’s stand in the Bombay High Court, which boldly went against the traditional appeasement policy, helped sculpt the victory. The man who was single-handedly responsible for the well-researched progressive stand of the Maharashtra government was former Advocate General Shreehari Aney. A few months ago, he stepped down from the post following a political storm over his pro-Vidarbha comments.

“This victory is a tribute to Shreehari Aney. He is a man with tremendous integrity,” senior lawyer Abha Singh told The Sunday Guardian. In the petition filed, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan had made Maharashtra government one of the respondents. The state government could have easily chosen to follow the appeasement policy, and sent a small reply in the matter.

“This was, in fact, a fight between a private trust and a citizen. There was no scope for the state’s stand in it. But since it is concerned with the right of the citizen to worship, the court wanted the state’s stand on record,” former Advocate General Shreehari Aney told The Sunday Guardian from Vidarbha.

A senior lawyer closely involved with the case said, “There was no problem in taking the legal stand. The law is very clear in the matter. This stand would have resulted in the same judgement that has come right now. But the political or religious effect of this stand was not predictable. This stand is not indicative of the appeasement policy. So one could not predict the political or religious impact of the stand.”

During the hearing of the case filed two years ago, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to submit its stand on the matter.

“At that time, Aney took great effort. He sent his team of lawyers to meet many Muslim scholars. The issue was thoroughly researched by him. Only after such a rigorous process was followed, did he compile a very pertinent note on the issue. He also articulately put forward the state’s stand before the court,” Abha Singh said. Sources in the government said that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis refused to interfere in the matter. Ultimately, Shreehari Aney used his legal acumen and prudence to take a progressive stand before the court.

“An Advocate General’s duty is to first stand for the protection of the people’s rights,” Aney had once told this correspondent when he was the Advocate General of Maharashtra. So, in the Haji Ali matter, this stand came naturally to him.

“The Haji Ali Trust was confusing the right to administer a religious institution with the right to religion or the right to worship itself. When they refused entry to women, it affected the equal right of women to worship,” Aney said, adding that the state protects the right of the citizens to protect Islam, and not the peripheral customs and usages around it. “The idea is that, if Islam doesn’t suffer due to a particular act, then that is not integral to Islam.”

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