“To bring about a change in the natural instincts and behavioral patterns of humans, customary religious practices, and cultural traditions, in accordance with current times is often, too tricky. Even if this change is appropriate, it cannot be accomplished by just bringing in a law or making law enforcement agencies to enforce the law. It never happened this way and it will never happen this way. It can only be accomplished through a respectful dialogue with concerned entities.”
– Dr Mohan Bhagwat, Vijayadashmi Speech
From Sabrimala to Shani Shingnapur, ‘liberals’, ‘seculars’, ‘rationalists’, ‘feminist’ etc are on run against the alleged discrimination against women in religious affairs. In case of Sabrimala, entry is banned to all women between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering temple precincts citing ritualistic practice and tradition. This is challenged by one Young Lawyers Association of India and filed a petition against the Travancore Devaswom Board’s policy. In case of Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, there is a 400 year old tradition of banning women from entering its sanctum sanctorum. The women activists from the Bhumata Brigade led by Trupti Desai tried to forcefully enter the temple to break this tradition. Though there can be genuine concerns regarding space for women in religious matters, the arguments of ‘rationalist protesters’ in support of defying the tradition are wrong on at least three counts.
In both the cases, it is a matter of faith. The trustees, villagers and devotees of both the places believe that the tradition has some reason which has to be followed. Rationality has no place for faith or tradition. The ‘rationalists’ have to explain whether they want to forcefully worship the God they do not believe in or to respect the sentiments of the people who believe in. People who do not have the courage to question the heinous practices in organised religion should do away with this age-old practice of making Hindu way of life a convenient target.
From a legal point of view, which rationalists claim to believe, temple is not a public property where anybody can barge in and do whatever she/he wants. It is owned by a trust and every trust has a right to decide rules and regulations regarding entry and subsequent behaviour. These temple trusts are generally governed by the people representing local communities. They define practices associated with the temple as per the popular beliefs about a particular deity and not according to their whims and fancies. Therefore, legally they have a right to restrict entries and behaviour of the entrants.
One has to understand and appreciate the fact that certain restrictions in temples are not similar to caste based discrimination existed in the pre-Independence era. They are based on local customs or nature of particular sect. All these arguments come up on the basis of concept of ‘rationality’ rooted in the protestant movement within Christianity. These rationalists forget that Hindu traditions are not guided by any organised religious institution like in the case of Christianity and Islam. As a process of evolution, those customs and traditions are localised and guided by the events of that particular area. As there are certain places where women are restricted, there are other temples and rituals which only allow women like Attukal temple or Navaratri Puja, where only girls are worshipped. As most of these traditions are associated with the process of aligning self with the nature, as per the temperament men and women have created their deities and ways to worship them. This is possible only in Hindu Dharma, which is its strength and soul.
Hindu society has a long cherished reformist tradition. Even during the freedom struggle many thinkers argued for social reforms through legislations by the British. On the other hand, nationalists like Tilak opposed it as British did not represent the will of the people but at the same time they believed that reformation has to come from within through a process of dialogue. The same direction is reiterated by the RSS Sarsanghachalak in his Vijayadashami speech last year. Respectful dialogue with all concerned parties is the Hindu way of reformation and we should follow the same.