What Was The Controversy?

In January this year, a group of four hundred odd women belonging to the Bhumata Ranragini brigade, led by Trupti Desai, a 31-year old housewife, attempted to break a tradition no one woman had ever dared of doing before. They tried to barge into the Shani Shingnapur Temple in Maharashtra, where there is an age old ritual of barring women from entering its premises. While the women failed to do so, owing to the police blocking their way, the incident raises many questions regarding the hypocrisy and patriarchy existing in the Indian society.

Sexism Prevalent In Religions:

Last year, a woman broke the age old tradition by entering the premises of the Shani Temple in Maharashtra. Later, the priests performed a ‘purification’ ritual, bathing the idol in milk. However, this isn’t an isolated case of a temple banning women from worshiping. Earlier, one of the priests at the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala suggested that a a machine should be installed outside the temple to check whether a woman’s ‘purity’, that is, whether she is menstruating or not. But Hinduism is not alone in following such regressive traditions. The famous Haji Ali Mosque in Mumbai also bars women from entering it. When asked why such rules are still in place, priests argue that women who are capable of giving birth, or are menstruating are ‘unclean’ while most of the male gods were celibate, thus, they should be kept out of temples. This not only points out to the prevailing sexism in religions, where there are very few women priests, but also to the hypocrisy of a society which worships female goddesses, but cannot stand the entering of its own women in sacred places.

Politics and Religion Go Hand In Hand:

While the Supreme Court has challenged the Sabarimala Temple’s tradition of keeping women out of its premises, politicians like Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Babulal Gaur have gone on the accord, saying that women would be better off worshiping at home. Also, in the presence of right-wing activists and pro-religious organizations like the RSS, it is difficult to break or get rid of the tradition altogether. Another issue, which prevents such regressive and misogynist rituals from being removed from our society is the lack of sustained effort. While the protests led by Trupti Desai, and the entering of a woman in the Shani Temple last year did manage to grab headlines, these steps failed to do anything substantial in order to spearhead a movement to allow women to enter religious institutions.

Are Women Considered Impure?

The prohibition of women from going to certain temples is deep rooted in the fact that patriarchy still exists. The reason given by the religious authority, saying that women are ‘impure’ and can lead to ‘immoral actions’if they enter sacred places, is an indication that the society cannot accept women as equal citizens, and thus, they don’t have the same rights as men, in the name of ‘honour.’ And the belief that women shouldn’t worship male gods in temples because they were celibate, is absurd. How can someone commit an act of ‘immorality’ with an idol? While the Indian society claims itself to be ‘forward looking’ and ‘liberal’, we are in fact taking two steps back when it comes to religion and women.

Can This Practice Come To An End?

In India, most people blindly follow religion, irrespective of whether some rituals being sexist in nature. Therefore, if someone tries to break, or says something against tradition, they are termed as ‘atheists’, ‘disrespectful’, or ‘irreligious.’ However, this is not just a question of religion, but also of the society, which fails to trust them and looks down upon them. Until we don’t eliminate patriarchy, and don’t accept whatever is thrown at us, we cannot expect to change.

[Image Attribute: Hafiz Issadeen]

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