By: Keyur Seta
The Republic Day marks the celebration of the Constitution of India. The Constitution grants equal rights to each and every citizen of the country. Ironically, on the very day, when the country was celebrating its constitutional rights, a group of women were not only meted out unconstitutional treatment but were also treated like criminals, when all they wanted was to enter a temple.
Women weren’t allowed anywhere inside the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra until 2011 when a number of rationalists like the Late Narendra Dabholkar made valiant efforts and protests. However, they still haven’t been granted access to the core shrine till today. Only men are allowed to enter the shrine and as women are considered ‘impure’.
Circa January 2016. A group of few hundred women, led by Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, decide to challenge regressive sexist practices by trying to enter the inner sanctorum. What happened was utterly shameful. They were forcefully stopped and, at times, beaten by the police. A large group of women from a so-called Hindu organizations also turned up to stop them. The protestors were not even allowed anywhere near the vicinity of the temple. In fact, they were stopped 70 kilometers away!
The behavior of fringe elements is expected because this is what they are actually. But one doesn’t expect our authorities to be on the side of those indulging in unconstitutional and unlawful activities. Mind you, there is no law that prohibits women or any human being from entering any place of worship.
Therefore, although it was quite heartening to see Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis visiting the site, it was disappointing that he only gave assurances and didn’t do anything to open the gates for women. As mentioned above, no law supports this practice. So, where is the issue? Why didn’t he use the police force in protecting the women from the misogynistic bigots who aren’t letting them enter?
But thankfully, these women haven’t given up, which has ensured that the movement is spreading slowly but steadily. Now, groups of women have also started protesting outside Sabarimala Temple and Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah. For those who aren’t aware, women aren’t allowed inside the inner sanctorums at these two places too.
The fact that women have united across religious lines is a strong message to the thekedars of religion. These evil forces should be told that no religious book has ever spoken about stopping women from entering any place of worship and that no God has appointed them as thekedars of any religion. But in case such theories are found in some ‘religious’ books, they should still be discarded. India follows the Constitution, not any regressive ‘religious’ book.
But for the movement to succeed, it is absolutely vital for people across gender, religious and class lines to extend support. This has to become something as big as the 2011 Anna Hazare Movement. However, practically speaking, for a majority of us, including me, it is next to impossible to physically be present at the sites of protest due to our work commitments.
But this is where the power of blogging and social media comes into place. In today’s day and age, governments and authorities have become aware about the voices on the internet. Message them, tag them, email them and use various other options on the internet, but make sure you put across your message. Use the hashtag #RightToPray
The issue is not just limited to these few places of worship. It’s a fight against patriarchy and sexism in the name of religion, which have ruled our society for thousands of years. This is a major opportunity to kick such ideas and kick them hard. Don’t let the movement go wasted. It’s 2016, for God’s sake!