NEW DELHI: The Central Haj Committee of India has issued a directive prohibiting pregnant women from going to Haj pilgrimage citing health issues. The order has forbidden women who are pregnant at the time of application and/or have completed four months of pregnancy by the time the departure of hajis begins in the month of September.

The directive also makes it clear that in case any woman manages to conceal her pregnancy at the time of application or departure, she will be checked upon for pregnancy in-flight and will be made to disembark from the flight or whatever else the mode of transport.

"This year the Haj pilgrimage is scheduled to start in September. It has been decided that pregnant women wishing to go on Haj should make sure that they have not completed four months of pregnancy at the time of leaving the country, failing which they would be barred from the pilgrimage," said Nazim Beg, Secretary, Haj Sewa Samiti, Bareilly to TOI.

The directive has come from Ata Ur Rehman, CEO, Central Haj Committee, who has also issued an advice to all such women to cancel their journey and take the payments back. He has asked all the Haj bodies scattered around the countries to disseminate the message. Beg further giving reasons for the prohibition said, "It is in the interest of pregnant women. The first five days of Haj are a grueling test of stamina and endurance of Hajis who have to move from one spot to other in quick succession. Besides, they are also supposed to make several rounds of the holy places as a part of the ritual. The decision has been taken in view of the safety and health of pregnant women."

The website of Central Haj Committee also, under its eligibility guidelines, proscribes-- ladies in advanced stage of pregnancy, especially those who are in such a stage at the time of outbound flight to the KSA.

The rationale of the pilgrimage being a hardy and taxing one is not unfounded. Stampedes are a common occurrence at Haj, often resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people at a time. Last year, from India alone, 120 people lost their lives at a stampede in Mina.

The Hajis, or pilgrims, are chosen by way of a draw and selected for a quota of 94000 seats in total. There’s also provision of discretionary quota in addition, which reserves seats for states of J&K and Lakshadweep among other Union Territories.