Rally held in Mumbai over women being barred from places of worship

Women, and a smattering of men, held a rally yesterday on the simmering issue of women being barred from places of worship

A number of organizations in Mumbai, cutting across religious lines held a march to demand equal right of access to places of worship, at the Azad Maidan yesterday. This is a hot button topic, given the recent controversy it has evoked. Originally, this was supposed to be a march from Byculla’s Saboo Siddik College to Azad Maidan. But police permission was not obtained and it was restricted to sloganeering at the Azad Maidan. “It is a celebration, rather than a protest march. Women’s Day is all about celebrating who we are and what we represent,” said Noorjehan Safia Niaz from Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the organisers of the event.

Holding evocative placards the women, cutting across all religious lines, raised a rallying cry for equal access. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
Holding evocative placards the women, cutting across all religious lines, raised a rallying cry for equal access. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

At least, 70 women braved the scorching afternoon heat, sitting patiently on floor mats at the Maidan to call attention to their cause, allowing them into places of worship, just like men are. A smattering of women’s organizations shared their work and their thoughts on women’s rights to religious places. There were a number of men too, in the gathering to extend their support.

The gathering braved the sweltering heat to make their point
The gathering braved the sweltering heat to make their point

Banners read, ‘We stand with Trupti Desai’. Trupti Desai has become the poster girl of the women’s right to access religious places movement. Desai was detained yesterday morning while on her way to Trimbakeshwar temple, and then released. Fatima Sheikh who was at Azad Maidan said, “Women have been deemed dirty, and, so they are not allowed access to religious places be it mosques or temples. Our sister, Trupti Desai was detained by the police and we are all here to extend our support.”

Insia Dariwala from Sahiyo, an NGO which stands against female genital mutilation in the Bohra Muslim community said, “The meaning of our name is friend. The women who have organised this are all friends. I hope Trupti wins in her fight; we are all supporting each other for the right of women to various things. Our community is one of the most progressive when it comes to education, and yet this practice of mutilation is still practised. It needs to stop as it violates human rights.”

Activist Jyoti Badekar, who was also one of the organisers said, “Donations from women are happily accepted at religious places, but, their touch is impure. Menstruation is something that God has made, how can it be dirty? A woman brings a child into the world and takes care of it, she can do anything. These religious rituals are backward, we stand with Trupti Desai, and no one can stop us from getting equality. God has made us equal, man cannot restrict this."

Jodha Kansara, a Chartered Accountant (CA) had taken a day off from work to attend the rally. The Dombivali resident says, “In our house, whenever I or my sisters are menstruating, the household mandir is covered in a red cloth. I have come here to stand up against these practices. I have managed to make my parents understand that God, is more than all these rituals.”

Fashion designer Mehrunissa Imam who was at the protest said, “I have heard various crazy suggestions of why women are not allowed into Haji Ali. I am here to discover what it is to be a woman and to stand in solidarity with those who want equality. If God sees me, even I want to see, love and worship him freely.”

In the end, it was evident that women have a long, tough road ahead when it comes to access. We saw outdated notions still practised in homes, not just public spaces.

As chants of Aaj ki naari kaise hai, kaise hai filled the air, the answer, aaj ki naari phool nahi, chingari hai resounded, underlining the combative nature of the event.

Trupti Desai and her fight
>> Trupti Desai was detained on Tuesday while on her way to Trimbakeshwar temple and later released.

>> Desai and 100 other women were detained by the Nashik police on Monday too. The group was trying to enter the core or inner sanctum of a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on the occasion of Mahashivratri. They were later released.

>> Last month, Desai was blocked in a similar fashion on the road to the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar, dedicated to Lord Shani or Saturn.

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