Mumbai: Backing the campaign by women activists to break gender bias and enter the sacred sanctum of a Shani temple, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar today said the movement is justified as there is no scriptural sanction for discriminating against female devotees.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Pic/ Pradeep Dhivar
The campaign by Bhumata Brigade, whose plan to offer prayers at the sacred platform in Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district, about 250km from here, was foiled today, also got support from various activists and rights groups from across the country.
"Women are justified (in seeking to enter the sacred sanctum of the temple) as there was no sanction to gender discrimination in our scriptures.
"If men can enter, women too can...different temples follow different rules, but if men can enter a place, (of worship) women can also do so. There is no scriptural sanction for any gender discrimination," he said.
"Many people are not even aware of such a thing so we need to educate our people that women and men have equal rights. A few years back women were not allowed to chant 'Gayatri mantra' but today women are learning Vedas (scriptures) and becoming priests in Pune," Sri Sri said.
"Awareness (on gender equality) has to be created, scriptures have to be understood properly. It is the work of religious and spiritual leaders to make people understand.
Though they may be following some traditions, it has no scriptural injunction," he said.
"In some ways this is good that people are taking a stand, in another way we need to bridge the gap. It should not become just an ego issue and people hold on to their stands."
The founder of Art of Living, an educational and humanitarian movement, said religious leaders should intervene in such issues.
"This can be resolved without much friction if the religious people take a pro-active role... I am with them (the women). They want to claim their right to worship.
"The other side is, they fear if they do something which has not been done for centuries, may be some bad thing will happen. This sort of psychological fear or concern needs to be addressed.
"Shani bhagwan won't be angry at you for allowing women.
Shani bhagwan will be very happy for women coming inside and offering prayers," said the popular religious guru, who has been this year chosen for Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian award.
Women and human rights activists and leaders also backed the campaign and said preventing female devotees from entering temples was no way justified in modern era.
Former Chairperson of Maharashtra State Women Commission Susie Ben Shah said "God is equal to all and right to worship is also equal to all. Why should there be gender bias in praying to God? All should be allowed in the temple."
Former bureaucrat and advocate Abha Singh said there were enough statutory provisions that give woman equal rights everywhere.
"When the Constitution provides for equality before law, how can women be banned from entering Shani Shingnapur Temple? Outdated practices need to be shunned. If women are agitating for entering the temple, they are within their fundamental rights to do so," she said.
"However, it (the campaign) should not lead to law and order problem. Government must take steps to maintain peace," she said, adding if CrPC Section 144 has been imposed (around the temple to ban assembly of people) then it should not be violated.
Mumbai BJP spokesperson Shaina NC expressed the hope Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis would intervene to end the protest.
I am very much confident that our Chief Minister would intervene in the matter and facilitate dialogue between agitating women and temple authorities. But nobody should take law into their hands," she said.
Shaina said the protesters should understand that the State administration has to to ensure there is no violence while dealing with such emotional issues.