NEW DELHI: Indian authorities say they are working “round the clock” to facilitate pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj — New Delhi’s “most extensive logistic operations” outside its homeland.
With over 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority country has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Under the 2023 Hajj quota, 175,000 of them are traveling to Saudi Arabia for the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam. Special flights for Indian pilgrims started in the last week of May and will end on June 22.
“The Indian Haj Mission works round the clock to deliver the best services for pilgrims,” the Indian Embassy in Riyadh told Arab News on Wednesday, as Ambassador Suhel Ajaz Khan completed a review of the facilities prepared for pilgrims by the country’s consulate in Jeddah and officials in Makkah and Madinah.
“Hajj arrangement is the most extensive logistic operation of the Government of India outside India. The Indian Haj Mission, under (the) Consulate General of India Jeddah, is very crucial for its success.”
What makes the arrangements more complex this year is a new Hajj policy allowing women to apply individually and reach the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on their own, as Saudi Arabia has lifted a rule that required female pilgrims to be accompanied by a mahram, or male guardian.
India tweaked its Hajj policy accordingly in February, and this year thousands of pilgrims registered in the Ladies Without Mahram category.
“The specialty of this year’s Hajj is female Hajis without mahram. Around 4,000 female pilgrims are using this opportunity,” the embassy said, adding that separate buildings, bus points and attendants have been designated to “facilitate their seamless transportation and accommodation” throughout their stay.
Another set of special arrangements is in place for elder pilgrims as over 25 percent of the Indian contingent are seniors.
Some of them have waited to go since 2019 as, during the coronavirus disease pandemic and afterwards, older pilgrims could not depart due to strict health guidelines.
“This year more than 47,000 pilgrims are of age 60 and above. The Haj Mission has made special arrangements for them with enhanced medical care, wheelchair facilities, and the use of volunteers to help them,” the embassy said.
In Makkah alone the country’s Hajj officials set up three makeshift hospitals that can accommodate 90 patients.
“Both in Madinah and Makkah, pilgrims expressed their satisfaction with the arrangements made,” the embassy said.
“Ambassador Dr. Khan also instructed to the officials to address any grievances and problems faced by the pilgrims immediately.”