Recently in India, the issue of women being prohibited from entering into religious places has gained much hype and attention. In April, Shankaracharya Swaroopanand, one of the priests with the highest level of authority over the Hindu temples, added even more fuel to the whole controversy with this statement: “the entry of women into the famous Shingnapur shrine, which is devoted to Lord Shani, will drive more rapes“.
The ban on the entry of women in religious spaces especially exists in Hinduism and Islam. The women are often barred from entering and even touching statues of certain gods in Hinduism such as Hanuman / Shani. In Islam, women are not allowed to preach and read ‘Namaaz’ (daily prayers at the Mosques), unlike the men of the families. The women in both the religions are, also, not allowed to preach or do any type of offering during their menstrual periods. They are also not allowed to touch the objects or even pass by the sacred spaces. All of this is guided by the societal notions of ‘purity and pollution’ and being ‘sacred or profane’. These practices create the grounds for religious discrimination against women. This therefore presents an entangling of religious and sexual discrimination.
The aforementioned practices and beliefs have existed in India and other parts of the world since time immemorial. However, all of this has gained much attention and become a controversial topic in the past few years. Trupti Desai, a female activist who belongs to one of the small organizations working for female empowerment “Bhumata Brigade” (located in Maharashtra) has taken on this age old tradition. It all started almost a year ago, when Trupti tried entering the Shani Shingnapur temple located in Ahmadnagar, Maharashtra. Her attempts to enter in protest later turned into a legal fight, with the Supreme Court ruling in favour of Trupti’s initiatives of equal access for women to entering into all religious public spaces. But her attempts have attracted criticisms and warnings from various religious fundamentalist groups and individuals such as the priest quoted above. Aside from this temple, Trupti has caused a stir at other locations such as the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai and Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
Trupti’s story actually demonstrates how when we put in the effort to fight for our rights and against inequality, it can lead to change. However, even after this, most women and their families belonging to both religions have still been following old tradition and have refrained from adopting the new practice, due to the superstitious belief that it will bring bad luck for them and their families.
In such a situation, the question that emerges is are the women subjecting themselves to oppressive practices? Also, are these practices decided by God, who is omnipotent and omnipresent, or are these the efforts of mankind in order to suppress women and create grounds for inequality? But one lesson which most definitely emerges is – if an ordinary woman like Trupti chooses to, she can fight age old tradition, and she can succeed.
All you ladies out there – start to say no, begin the fight and take a step forward!
The world is yours, and so is God…