NEW DELHI: An Indian Hajj flight run exclusively by women and carrying only female pilgrims has landed in Saudi Arabia.
The Air India Express flight from Kozhikode, Kerala arrived with 145 pilgrims on board arrived at Jeddah airport..
It was operated by Capt. Kanika Mehra, First Officer Garima Passi, and four cabin crew members, Arab News reported.
At the airport, the women were accompanied by Minority Affairs State Minister John Barla, who distributed their boarding passes.
“I am very proud,” C. Mohammed Faizi, chairman of the Kerala Haj Committee, told Arab News.
The passengers of the special flight are part of a group of 4,000 Indian female pilgrims who this year will reach the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on their own.
India tweaked its Hajj policy following last year’s decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a rule that required female pilgrims to be accompanied by a mahram, or male guardian.
Most of the Indian pilgrims who applied for Hajj in the Ladies Without Mahram category are from Kerala.
“Without mahram, there are about 2,000 … The largest number without mahram are from Kerala,” Faizi said, attributing the high number to the level of education in Kerala and the fact that many women in the state are used to traveling to the Middle East to meet their relatives working there.
Kerala this year also boasts a higher overall percentage of female Hajj pilgrims than other Indian states.
“Sixty percent are women,” Faizi said.
Muslims constitute about a fourth of Kerala’s population of 35 million.
About 11,000 of them will be performing the Hajj pilgrimage this year under India’s quota of 175,000, and approximately 60 percent of them will be women.