Four hundred years of gender bias at the Shani Shingnapur Temple came to an end yesterday after women were, for the first time, allowed into the sanctum sanctorum to worship Lord Shani up close. With comes an end to the controversy that has been raging around the temple for months, since women began to challenge traditions that allowed men access to the deity but not women.
A huge precedent was set by the activists who finally enjoyed the fruits of their hard-fought victory yesterday. The road was not easy, and anybody who thought it would be so, was naïve. Challenging a centuries-old tradition was certainly going to be very tough and the campaign saw activists clashing with locals, facing violence, detention and, of course, political colour. Even after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis stated that there should be no discrimination and women should be allowed to pray, the activists were barred, until, at last, relentless efforts saw the doors opening to women.
This should now be the first step to equals access in places of worship, of all religious persuasion. Hopefully, from here on, the path should be smoother than it has been for the Shani Shingnapur activists. Priority should be given to dialogue between activists and those opposing access.
Religious institutions need to move with the times, and gender discrimination has no place in our time. There cannot be an attitude of sticking to tradition at all cost. In many places of worship, there are rooms or pockets that women cannot access for different reasons, prime among them being ‘purity’. The larger structure remains open, and women are perhaps expected to be thankful for such small mercies. But it is time for all religions to heed the call of women. We need all areas of every religious place to be open to women if they are to men.
After all, God moves in compassionate and non-discriminatory ways. It is mere mortals who are prejudiced, who take it upon themselves to impose unfair rules and restrictions that have no basis or logic. It is now time to smash the spiritual glass ceiling.
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