Barely a few months after we started our campaign for entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra, it has now entered a decisive phase. After gaining entry into the inner sanctum of the Shani Shingnapur temple and then at Trimbakeshwar in Nashik, we will now try to enter the mazar of the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai.
After Haji Ali, the Sabarimala temple of Kerala — where they say there is 100 per cent literacy — will be our target. We have little doubt that we will be able to break these wrong traditions and set in motion a new era where women in this country will enter places of worship with their heads held high, not as second-class citizens.
We have been repeatedly asked a question: Why are we trying to break “paramparas (traditions)” that have been observed for ages? My counter-question to those who ask this: Why can’t we break such age-old paramparas that seek only to denigrate women and give them secondary status in a country that has given them equal status? This male-dominated society has, for ages, sought to carry on with traditions that suit them. They have conveniently carried on with tradition that subjugates women, snatches their identity and smashes their self-esteem. In a nutshell, bad traditions have been given a strong push for centuries by this male-centric society in a bid to maintain their upper hand and dominance.
We are being asked why women — who go through menstrual cycles — should be allowed to go near gods? Some are branding women as impure and unfit to enter the sanctum sanctorum. The mere raising of such issues and talk about purity and impurity in the 21st century reflects the mindset and quality of these people. Thankfully, not many think on these lines or cling on to outdated and highly objectionable ideas that seek to push women into dark corners. My question is: What connection does a menstrual cycle have with the entry of women into the inner sanctums of places of worship?
How can anybody even term “impure” the changes that a woman’s body undergoes? In today’s scientific world, how can they even ask such despicable questions? Do these men call the women who gave birth to them impure? Will they call their own births impure? If they call the process through which they come into this world impure, then, by their standards, they themselves are impure. But why even bring up such issues that have downgraded the status of women who have, in fact, been exalted by age-old scriptures that stipulate that man is incomplete without woman, and so on. We believe that god brought man into this world. But who brings men and women into this world? Obviously, women. Then who is a woman? Does she not have the status of a god?
We are not terming entry into inner sanctums as a victory. If the Constitution of this country has given us equal rights, then we want to assert these rights. If men are allowed to enter inner sanctums at places of worship, we, too, want that right. By entering the inner sanctum, we are seeking to do away with the wrong traditions that exist in this country. For instance, in several communities, including amongst the upper classes, widows are not allowed to remarry. It is considered sacrilegious. On the contrary,
if a woman dies, the husband is hurried into re-marriage.
Such double standards that heavily favour men have continued for ages. As if women have no feeling or desire. Why should there be double standards in this age and time? All the harsh rules of society are reserved only for women. And all the positive norms seem hugely bent in favour of men.
Our fight to enter inner sanctums is not targeted at any particular religion. Our fight is not against religion but wrong practices of religion. No scripture forbids women from entering the inner sanctums of places of worship. Yet, such wrong practices continue against the spirit and tenets of the religion. By seeking entry into the sanctum sanctorum, we are not challenging Hindu sanghatanas or any other religion. But we don’t understand what they will gain by stopping us. All the organisations that are opposing us tooth and nail should join us and help in giving women pride of place, which they richly deserve. Look at the Shani Shingnapur temple now. Women can enter the inner sanctum with pride and dignity — and nothing “bad”, as some had predicted, has happened.
We are thankful to the trustees of the temple for changing their stance and giving women their rightful place. We have faced severe opposition to our entry into inner sanctums so far. We have been threatened, called names, abused using unprintable language, even beaten up. But we are not giving up. In fact, our agitation has become a national movement. After Shani Shingnapur and Trimbakeshwar, on to Haji Ali and Sabarimala.