The Shani Shingnapur Decision Is Hardly A 'Victory' For Women

08/04/2016 6:51 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
STR via Getty Images
Indian devotees gather at The Shani Shingnapur Temple in Ahmednagar, some 200kms east of Mumbai on April 2, 2016. Angry villagers blocked a group of women activists from entering the inner sanctum of a temple in western India, despite a court order mandating Hindu women's right to worship / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Before we get carried away by what this headline calls the 'gift' of Gudi Padwa, we need to consider what it took to have the Shani Shingnapur temple allow women into the sanctum sanctorum. Men had to be denied their exclusive rights first. Extremely miffed, they proceeded to claim the same back and the side effect was that, the temple had to extend the same rights to women.

Also Read: Shani Shinganapur Temple Opens Inner Sanctum To Women

The roughly three-month trajectory of the Shani Shingnapur protests saw mention-worthy participation from men just today, and it was only a matter of hours before women could enter the 'exclusive' inner chambers of the temple. This 'victory' - if it can be called that - doesn't taste all that sweet for simply one reason.

Unless, they had a radical change of heart in the course of six days, the Shani Shingnapur temple didn't seem to have made the move in acknowledgement of the equal social standing of men and women. In fact, they were so intent on keeping women away from the temple's chambers that after a Bombay High Court ruling declared that women have to be granted permission if men are, they went on to ban men too. They had fought the women claiming their rights tooth and nail till they were legally threatened with the prospect of losing patronage from men too.

shani shingnapur

Activist Trupti Desai.

However, it must be acknowledged that the path for this final collision was paved by women themselves. A PIL filed by women activists Vidya Bal and Nilima Varta was heard by the Bombay High Court. Chief Justice of Bombay HC, DH Waghela said, "There is no law that prevents entry of women in any place. If you allow men then you should allow women also. If a male can go and pray before the deity then why not women? It is the state government's duty to protect the rights of women." The temple, like we have mentioned above, responded with a ban on men, which ultimately culminated in today's confrontation.

It has not been reported who these men were or if they belonged to an organisation. However, after 100 of these men broke police barricades and entered, the trust's spokesperson Haridas Gaywale said, "The trust has at the meeting decided there will not be any discrimination and today all parts of Shani temple are open for all." It perhaps serves as a face-saver for the temple as of now, but his statement if proof of the fact that the temple did indulge in discrimination till date.

sabarimala temple

Devotees at the Sabarimala Temple.

Sayaram Bankar, another trustee, told India Today, "We will welcome (Bhoomata Brigade leader) Trupti Desai also if she comes for darshan." The same Trupti Desai who the police and security men stopped and detained twice in the course of the last three months.

The biggest takeaway, and a fairly disturbing one, from the Sabarimala-Shani Shingnapur controversies was not how skewed some of our religious practices are. The fact that organised religion doesn't make space for liberal social narratives doesn't shock anyone anymore.

What was truly appalling was the knowledge of the sheer number of educated, 21st century individuals who not only endorsed the prejudices shaped and legitimised thousands of years ago, but would go to great lengths to defend and practice them. The outrage and ridiculous explanations that the thought of women wanting to enter temples or inner chambers reserved for men threw up were disquieting to say the least. Women were 'impure', women would distract gods, women would arouse unnecessary sexual aggression in men trying to concentrate on praying - the rationale offered in the defence of primitive theories, were mindboggling. It's as if the world around us has suddenly jumped on a shuttle back to the Dark Ages.

The conspicuous absence of too many men in the Shani Shingapur struggle when the issue was just about the rights of women, hint at a disturbing reality of the struggle for equal rights.

This 'victory', aided by the court and some unrelenting brave women, should have ideally come as a sign of better times ahead. However, the conspicuous absence of a substantial number of men in the Shani Shingapur struggle when the issue was just about the rights of women, hint at a disturbing reality of the struggle for equal rights. A section of men, we can even call them a majority, will be moved about social injustices only when they are subjected to such treatment themselves. The Shani Shingnapur battle became their battle when they were faced with 'women treatment'. And when they broke barricades and entered the temple, no one was picked up, roughed up or detained like Desai and other women activists were even when they turned up post the Bombay HC order. Thereby proving, rights are for anyone who has muscle power - and that's not a very encouraging thought.

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