3,500 Indian women have performed Haj without 'Mehram' after govt's 'historic' decision: Naqvi

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New Delhi, Jul 16 (PTI) About 3,500 Indian women have performed Haj without 'Mehram' after the Modi government's 'historic' reform in 2018 which did away with the compulsion of a male companion with women on the pilgrimage, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Friday.

The restriction of having a male companion was lifted in 2018 and women could avail its benefit in that year and in 2019.

Haj was cancelled for Indians in 2020 and 2021 with Saudi Arabia deciding that only a limited number of people residing in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform Haj due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing a programme organised by Consulate General of India in Jeddah to celebrate completion of 75 years of India-Saudi Arabia diplomatic relations and also 75 years of India's Independence (Amrit Mahotsav), Naqvi said 100 per cent digital Haj system in India has ensured that there is no additional financial burden on Indian Haj pilgrims even after removal of subsidy for the pilgrimage.

The Haj pilgrimage is one of the strongest pillars of strong relations between India and Saudi Arabia, the minister said in his address via video conferencing.

India became the first country in the world to make the entire Haj process 100 per cent digital, he said.

A record number of two lakh Indian Muslims performed Haj in 2019 without Haj subsidy, he noted.

Naqvi said the digital system has made the entire Haj process transparent and more comfortable.

Digital Haj process includes online applications, Haj Mobile App, digital pre-tagging of luggage of pilgrims, E-MASIHA health system, Portal for Haj Group Organisers with their details and Haj packages, he pointed out.

Naqvi said the Modi government's 'historic reform' to allow Indian Muslim women to travel for Haj without 'Mehram' or male companion has received overwhelming response in India and abroad.

'From 2018, about 3,500 Muslim women from India have performed Haj without 'Mehram'. The women who apply to perform Haj without 'Mehram' are exempted from the lottery system,' he said.

Special arrangements are made by Indian agencies for these women pilgrims. Female officers and assistants are deputed from India to assist the women pilgrims, he said.

On the occasion, Naqvi thanked Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman for ensuring better facilities for Indian pilgrims during Haj.

Naqvi said that due to the Covid pandemic, India could not send people to perform Haj 2021.

India and Saudi Arabia share the ideals of global peace, progress and prosperity, he said.

Noting that India and Saudi Arabia enjoy a close friendship strengthened by strong people-to people contacts since centuries, Naqvi said the two countries are tied together with strong historical, cultural, economic and diplomatic relations.

The bilateral relations have become even more stronger by regular visits of the leaders and senior officials of both the nations, Naqvi said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit to Saudi Arabia in October 2019 has taken ties to greater heights.

He also thanked Saudi Arabia Ministry of Haj and Umrah and other agencies for their cooperation with Indian agencies concerned with Haj management.

Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ausaf Sayeed; Rafat Ismail Badr, Chairman, South Asian Moassassa; CEO Haj Committee of India Dr. M A Khan; Ibrahim Saifuddin (Bohra Rubat); and senior officials from India and Saudi Arabia also participated in the event. PTI ASK KJ

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