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Shame on the house of Delhi's best known Sufi shrine.
[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
What if Nobel laureate Mr. VS Naipaul goes to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's dargah?
What would Mr. Naipaul, ever the pessimist, ever the cynic, observe in the famous south Delhi shrine? Going by his past, if he goes on to write a book, Mr. Naipaul would surely use the most elegant language to describe the filth, the stench, the beggars, the unruly crowd, the shouting, the shoving and the general hullaballoo.
He would notice all the unpleasant aspects of the dargah and ignore the beauty of it: the serenity, the peace and the Sufi ishq. Reading such an account, I would just shrug and smirk.
But what if Mr. Naipaul notices what I notice and feel ashamed of each time I visit the dargah — that women are not allowed inside the main shrine.
While men and eunuchs are privileged to go inside to pay their hajiri, our women can only pray, kneel, kiss and cling to the wall of the tomb-chamber. I have often seen women who mistakenly enter the shrine being rudely asked to leave by caretakers. As if they are herding cows or goats.
Are women inferior? Are they impure? Does the presence of a woman destroy the sanctity of the sanctum sanctorum? Curiously, Delhi boasts the shrine of a woman Sufi — Bibi Fatima's dargah at Kaka Nagar. If we can have that, why can't we let women enter the shrine of a Sufi?
Writer Ms. Sadia Dehlvi, who is working on a book on Sufism, has never been inside the dargah. "This reflects the conservative attitude of the dargah caretakers. It is a matter of culture rather than religion, for these were not rules laid down by the Sufis," she says.
Intolerance is not, of course, the official reason for barring women's entry; there are more bizarre explanations. A khadim (caretaker) at the shrine says that the inner chamber is small and everyone has to stand so close to each other that women might find it uncomfortable. So why not let the men stay outside?
These sexist discriminations are not part of the Sufi tradition. My mother has every right to enter the dargah. Till the time she's not allowed entry, I, too, should perhaps just pray by clinging to the outer wall. Meanwhile, I must take her to the shrine of Gharib Nawaz - another great Sufi saint - in Ajmer, 6-hour car-ride from Delhi. There they let the women inside.