A lot of hue and cry was observed at various places in the country and especially in Maharashtra over last few weeks. After much struggle on the street, at the temple premises and in the courts of law, a group of women activists was successful in entering the temples at various places like Shani temple at Shinganapur, Mahalakshmi temple at Kolhapur to name a few. The fight is still on for entry in Sabarimala temple at Kerala and Haji Ali Dargah at Mumbai. Much was written and debated for and against this issue.
This is not the first time such campaign is launched against discrimination. Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a crusader who fought and laid his life working against superstitions, also led a similar campaign against the Temple trust of Shani Shinganapur. With the state government in favour of finding peaceful solutions, and even after getting court orders regarding the entry by women in the said temples the trustees and the local people tried their best to create all kinds of hurdles to prevent the women activists trying to enter the temple. A women minister from Maharashtra gave the statement, that as this practice is followed for generations there is no need to rethink about it. She conveniently forgot that once, the practice of sati was also followed as tradition. Many people, especially so-called progressive women, ask “Why to create so much of fuss for entering a particular temple? We reject such God who discriminates between his own creatures. It’s better to focus our energy on more important issues.” Some observers treated this issue as publicity stunt as it quickly got wide media attention. The activists involved in all those demonstrations said that they are fighting for equality.
It is essential to note here that all these temples have an important place in people’s religious and cultural thoughts. Thousands of people from all over the country and from outside visit these temples every day to pay obeisance. Many of these temples discriminate against women on various grounds. For example, the Gods Shani & Kartikeya are the deities observing celibacy and so the presence of women is not desired. Or to state another example, due to menstruation women are considered to be impure, hence it is necessary to either ban women of age group 10-50 or to install a machine to find out how many of women devotees are menstruating. This is definitely an ugly demonstration of our patriarchal mentality which is not ready to change even though we live in 21st century. Such discrimination has been fundamentally justified on the grounds of biological differences between men and women. For supporting such argument philosophical reasoning is given to legitimize various forms of subordination as natural, traditional, and therefore unchangeable. Same thought process works when we talk about racism or caste system. The fear to see women progressing at par with men, claiming new fields, competing in every walk of life fighting all odds created by the same rigid mentality, is not accepted by these rigid patriarchs.
For the educated generation of girls and boys, it is ridiculous to discriminate against women by calling them as impure due to menstruation, and at the same time glorifying kanyakapoojan and worshipping. A few months back a campaign called “Celebrate Your Menstruation” was run in many universities by sticking sanitary napkins on notice boards and public places. Though such movements may appear loud, and at times crossing decent limits, they catch the attention of the ruling class and shake the rigid patriarchal norms of society.
As we know that similar demands have come up from Muslim women’s organizations too. Though the fight is for entering a particular dargah or to work as a maulvi, in larger perspective they are advocating equal rights for women. Today, many women’s organizations are trying to work together for common cause, surpassing issues of caste, class and religion.
In 20th Europe, women’s groups started smashing the showcases of shops and demonstrating violently after all other peaceful means were exhausted [and completely ignored by the ruling class and the established rigid thought process] to get a right to vote. So it should be well understood that though such fights are symbolic and sometimes associated with local issues, but in a larger perspective they are very much part of feminist movement.
The fight for equality of women is a long drawn battle. It has travelled a long path working for women’s education, health, working hours, equal pay for equal work on one hand and against atrocities like dowry deaths and female feticide. This fight seems to have no end. Earlier such movements were mostly led by upper class educated progressive women; now they are more connected with common people and masses. The more it connects with masses, the stronger it will grow. It is everybody’s responsibility, and especially women’s responsibility to play their part for a greater common cause.
This article was written by our team member Ms. Prajakta Neelkanth, for IAS officers wives association’s Prerna magazine
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