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Govt Says Disabled 'Hajis' Begging in Saudi, Decides to Continue 30-Yr-Old Debarring Policy

The affidavit, which has been filed by the Ministry through its standing counsel, Ajay Digpaul, has stated in the reply that CGI in Jeddah had advised for strict screening of disabled people.

Debayan Roy | News18.com

Updated:April 12, 2018, 12:09 PM IST
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Govt Says Disabled 'Hajis' Begging in Saudi, Decides to Continue 30-Yr-Old Debarring Policy
A pilgrim distributes dried dates for Muslims to break their fast during the fasting month of Ramadan, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca. (Representative image/AP photo)
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New Delhi: The Ministry of Minority Affairs has informed the Delhi High Court that the government has chosen to retain the 30-year-old practice of debarring disabled Muslims from performing Hajj as the Consulate General of India in Jeddah has found many of them “begging” in the foreign land.

Advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal had approached the court with respect to the ‘derogatory’ term used for the disabled in New Haj Policy approved by the government and led by Afzal Amanullah.

The affidavit, which has been filed by the Ministry through its standing counsel, Ajay Digpaul, has stated in the reply that CGI in Jeddah had advised for strict screening of disabled people and in the view of physical hardships, the government has decided to bar disabled from applying for Hajj through the Hajj Committee of India.

“CGI, Jeddah advice in 2012 had asked for strict screening of disabled persons in view of instances of many such people indulging in begging which is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia,” said the government affidavit.

The government has also stated that the practice of barring the disabled from performing Hajj is not new, and that it has been in existence for over 30 years in India.

“As per prevailing practice for more than 30 years, persons suffering from physical disabilities or suffering from specified diseases have been debarred from performing the pilgrimage through Hajj Committee of India,” states the reply.

Ministry of Minority Affairs has also laid down how ‘difficult’ is the pilgrimage and how the disabled would be at risk from performing the pilgrimage as risk of stampede, etc, looms high.

“Haj pilgrimage is physically demanding and involves arduous journey from Arafat to Mina. There is fear of stampede or mishaps. And in such grueling situation, it is only the pilgrirn with physical disabilities who are likely to suffer the most It is because of the difficulties involved in Haj Pilgrimage that as per Quranic injunction Haj is not cast upon as a duty for everyone but only on those who have the lstatah (physical and financial capacity),” said the government affidavit.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Hari Shankar had served a notice to the government on a petition challenging the new Haj Policy 2018-2022, which bars differently-abled people from undertaking the pilgrimage through the Haj Committee of India.

Advocate Bansal had contended that the new Haj Policy violated Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016 as also Articles 14, 21 and 25 pertaining to equality, personal liberty and religious freedom.

In a letter dated, December 27, The National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled had expressed strong reservation against the terminology used to denote persons with disabilities and called it "abusive and derogatory in nature."

In addition to this, the group highlighted the clause, "those afflicted with polio, tuberculosis, congestive cardiac & respiratory ailment, acute coronary insufficiency, coronary thrombosis, mental disorder, infectious leprosy, AIDS or any other communicable disease / disability, as not allowed to perform Haj," as the one which can be used to ban any disabled person from undertaking the Haj.

However, now in this affidavit before the Delhi HC, the government has justified the usage of the words as, “it is important to understand the clientele these guidelines target, a large number of whom are not educated and understand only Urdu or Hindi. Given this background, these wordings might have been used for understanding of the common applicant.”

During Haj 2017, the total quota allocated to India was 1, 70,025 out of which 1, 25,025 was allocated to Haj Committee of India and 45,000 was allocated to private tour operators.

V Muralidharan, the president for the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled has also heavily critiqued this affidavit by the government.

"In its attempt to defend a policy that is outright discriminatory, the government is portraying the entire disabled community as beggars. This is demeaning and an out-and-out abuse, which has to be squarely condemned. That a few disabled are compelled into begging, reflects poorly on skewed priorities of successive governments at the Centre that have failed to ameliorate the conditions of the vast mass of the disabled population​," said Muralidharan.

In January this year, after resistance from rights body for disabled on discriminatory provisions of the newly proposed Haj eligibility rules, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, held a meeting with the rights body and had then agreed to amend Haj rules to avoid violation of disability rights.
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