NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have abolished the VIP quota for pilgrims and allowed single women to apply as well, in a step they said on Tuesday was aimed at making the country’s pilgrimage policy more inclusive.
With more than 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Every year, more than 150,000 Indian Muslims embark on Hajj, a spiritual journey and one of the five pillars of Islam.
While some of them need to wait years for their turn, there were 500 reserve spots set aside annually for top government officials — a practice that was stopped on Monday under the new Hajj policy released by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
The new policy also increased the number of pilgrimage embarkation points from 10 to 25, and waived application fees.
A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body of the Indian government that organizes Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, said: “In front of Allah everyone is the same therefore there is no need to have special quotas.”
The policy also allows women to apply individually.
“So far the policy was that women above 45 can travel in groups of four without a male companion, but this time a single woman can also apply,” Abdullakutty added.
A total of 175,000 pilgrims from India will embark on Hajj this year, with the journey of 80 percent of them being handled by the committee, and the remaining 20 percent by private operators.
S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the Hajj committee, told Arab News the new policy was “people friendly and more inclusive toward women.”
India’s civil society saw the move also as a step for India in becoming more accepting of women’s independence.
“To be independent is a different thing and the society accepting the independence of a woman is a different thing,” Jamila Nishat, a women’s rights activist based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, said.
“This is a good step. This is a step to accept the independence of women.”