April 07, 2016

India: Women, you can worship anywhere (Editorial, Deccan Herald, 7 April 2016)

Deccan Herald, Editorial 7 April 2016

Women, you can worship anywhere
Bengaluru, Apr 6, 2016, DHNS:

The Bombay High Court’s ruling in favour of unhindered entry of women into temples is yet another endorsement of a basic right all women have but have not been allowed to exercise in many places.

The ruling is in the specific context of entry for women into the Shani Shinganapur temple in Ahmednagar district where they have been traditionally barred from climbing on to a platform near the deity. Women’s groups have been agitating for equal treatment with men in the matter. The hold of regressive tradition on society is such that even when the Maharashtra government seemed to support the women’s cause, some ministers and political groups openly opposed it. After the court’s ruling too the temple authorities have managed to stop women from entering the temple with the use of a ruse and threat of force. It is the responsibility of the state government to ensure that the court’s order is implemented fully in letter and spirit.

All the resistance to women’s entry into temples comes from the entrenched patriarchal mindset which privileges men over women. The court has done well to clearly state that it is the fundamental right of women to enter any temple. The issue involves gender justice and the constitutional rights of equality, non-discrimination and freedom of religion, which all women are as entitled to as men. It is not only the Constitution but the laws also that specifically affirm women’s rights. The high court quoted the Maharashtra law which says no Hindu of whatever section or class shall be prevented from entering a place of public worship. No argument based on custom, usage, convention or sensitivity should be allowed as a pretext to deny women their right. These notions are not central to the practice of religion. These arguments were used once to prevent Dalits from entering temples and to justify atrocities like sati.

Women are barred from entry into many other places of worship too. A case for entry of young women into the Sabarimala temple is before the Supreme Court. The court has raised some important questions during preliminary hearing. The Bombay High Court itself has before it another case demanding entry of Muslim women into the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. The ruling in the Shani temple case will hopefully have a bearing on the court’s decision in the Dargah case. Entry into a place of worship is the most basic right of the follower of a religion. Women should have an absolute claim not only to this but also to other rights, like the right to practise priesthood, which is a male preserve now.