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Recently, my mother had to face gender discrimination while entering a temple in Himachal Pradesh, despite the Supreme Court’s orders to not restrict women under any circumstances from entering and worshipping inside Hindu temples.
“The women’s right to worship is a constitutional one and it does not depend on laws. Once you open for public, anybody can go. If there is a temple, then it is a public place and everyone is allowed to go there, women can also go. Every woman is also the creation of God and why should there be discrimination against them in employment or worship? All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. This means your right as a woman to pray is not dependent on a legislation. It is your constitutional right”.
The Supreme Court’s recent observations are highly commendable, yet, the big revolutionary change is still a distant dream when it comes to eradication of deep rooted gender biases, especially in the context of religious practices in this nation. Here, the woman in question was my own mother. As she went to visit the famous Baba Balak Nath temple situated in Deotsidh in the Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh, my mother was barred from entering the temple’s main shrine following the age old practice of women devotees being restricted from doing so.
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The temple has followed this centuries old tradition where women were not allowed to enter the cave. They pay obeisance and have darshan from a raised platform, a few meters away from the cave. The temple that is visited by a number of devotees every year holds special significance as the deity is considered to be the incarnation of Lord Kartikeya (the elder son of Lord Shiva) and is believed to have been a brahmachari (bachelor) throughout his life. According to the old tales, since the temple’s construction, locals preferred that women should not go close to him and that became a tradition followed till date. Therefore, women were never permitted to go near the idol or touch it.
However, after the Supreme Court’s historical verdict in the Shani Shingnapur temple where the ban on entry of women in the premises was finally lifted, other such temples in the country really didn’t follow the highest Court’s orders. Well, in my mother’s case, even after the government controlled Sidh Baba Balak Nath Temple had decided two years ago to permit women in the sanctum sanctorum, the practical implementation was nowhere to be seen. Nonetheless, my 67 year old mother fought against the odds. She went on to register a complaint with the temple authorities. Eventually, after over an hour’s discussion and drama, she was allowed to visit the main idol and worship.
I am happy and proud that my aware and educated mother took up the cudgels to raise her voice against such centuries old discriminatory practices being carried out in the name of tradition that have only intensified the regressive approach to gender equality. The entire episode, however, leaves me surprised at the utter disrespect of the Court’s orders. And although, the resilient conformists of these so-called religious high seats will never be able to change their orthodox mindsets, the struggle to wipe out gender disparity should not cease.
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