In a development that may not come as a welcome news for those getting ready to attend the annual ritual of Haj in the holy city of Mecca, the Centre has imposed curbs on differently-abled persons from attending the Haj pilgrimage over concerns that they may indulge in begging after reaching there, an affidavit by the Ministry of Minority Affairs filed before a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar, has said. The point to be noted here is that “begging” is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia, and the government’s stance will screen the disabled from involving in the act. According to The Indian Express, the Centre’s affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court said that the “screening of differently-abled persons” was advised in 2012 by the Consulate General of India (CGI) in Jeddah.
The ministry’s response on Wednesday came during the hearing on a petition challenging the bar on differently-abled people from performing Haj pilgrimage. The petition argues that the policy violates the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, 2016 as well as Articles 14, 21 and 25 pertaining to equality, personal liberty and religious freedom. The petition also makes note of the wording of the policy which says persons who are “lunatic” and “crippled” are barred from going for Haj. However, the Centre justified using these words saying that they may have been used for the understanding of the common applicant, most of whom are uneducated and understand only Urdu or Hindi, the IE report said.
In December 2017, the Modi government had drawn criticism from several minority groups for retaining the clause barring differently-abled people from undertaking Haj as well as the offensive language in its revised Haj policy 2018-2022. Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had then ordered the offensive lines to be deleted from the ministry’s website, but the ban remained.
The government’s Counsel has, meanwhile, said that the affidavit must be read in its entirety. It stated that Haj is a rigorous pilgrimage and therefore should be undertaken by those who are physically fit. The affidavit also said that the new policy for Haj pilgrims for 2018-22 makes no departure from the earlier policy. With regard to eligibility criteria and the exact wordings about persons with disability, the Centre said it has retained what was used in the previous policy for Haj 2013-17. The ministry has also emphasised in its response that there was no intention to disrespect or hurt the feelings of any person by incorporating the said provisions in the Haj policy to bar people suffering from certain serious diseases or those categorised as disabled.