In the prevalent discourse about women’s rights, there is a tendency to broad base arguments in the context of religion and state that all religions are patriarchal and from that stems the systemic subordination of women. This generalisation must be disputed in the context of Hinduism. A distinction must be drawn between the practices that have evolved into customs in the brief period of five hundred odd years and the actual moorings of Hinduism. For an ancient civilisation, five centuries is but a moment, a brief eclipse, and yet this was the argument used to justify the Temple Trusts' stance in Shani Shingnapur, in the absence of an argument that justified the position that customs even if they discriminate against women must be followed in the name of tradition. It is a valid position for the near-sighted, without a sense of their own history and cultural awareness.
There maybe an argument made about the protests, of political motivation guiding them, or that of furthering a public discourse that reflects Hindu chauvinism that extends to women. For what better representation of the ills of a faith than its treatment of women by its practitioners? Or the spurious claims of those who have placed themselves at the vanguard of the current Hindu narrative, who are in actuality status quoists masquerading as protectors of the faith and traditions. And status quoists who comically, for all their projected earnestness spin their arguments with threads from a time when Hinduism was subject to a “reformation” in its attitude towards women under the duress of political subjugation (the five centuries old argument). An assimilation into the order of the day, by subjecting women to the same constraints that had the sanction of conquerors.
This was not the “Hinduism” that existed in the Vedic age. What instead we can extract from the Vedic texts is a pre-feminist treatise on the role of women in society. It is these textual references and our centuries-old spiritual tradition that must assist us in correcting our paths, securing them away from detours necessitated by a challenging history. We must uphold these values and use it to guide us through the minefield of gender relations used by political interests and groups wishing to raise their public profiles by obfuscation and the need to dominate the current day Hindu narrative and dismantle the one of the past. The Vedas in their wisdom acknowledged the difference in gender but pursued the path of equality nonetheless.
The Vedas—revealed texts from God—were accessible to all for the uplift of humanity. Indeed, the Yajur-Veda is unambiguous about this accessibility—stating that the teachings of the Vedas are universal (26-2) and asks all learned people including women to teach the Vedas. Vedic hymns were revealed to women (Lopamudra, Gargi) and to Shudras (Lavish Aylush). Unfortunately, we live in a time when there are enough poseurs, perpetuating inequality in the garb of “tradition” and disregarding revealed wisdom.
We must search for information to withstand assaults from critics as well as self-appointed translators of the faith, who intend to inspire adherence by putting forth the most codified translation of our spiritual tradition. What such rigidity will achieve and indeed it already has is a disenchantment with Hinduism. This need to “otherise”, to divide Hindu society (men and women) on the basis of distinctions has not proved fatal for Hinduism but it has enervated it.
There is no spiritual argument for discrimination in temples. There is no legal argument and there is no constitutional argument. There is the matter of custom or personal practice. In that, there must be no interference, if it so abides your personal belief system that entering a temple goes against your practice, then do refrain from doing so. But to subject others to your choices, to dictate to them to follow your standards of religiosity is not Hindu, not culturally and not spiritually.
It is an adjustment we make with the changing times when we amend our practice but not our devotion. It is Hinduism's greatest strength. And this will be achieved by dialogue and upheld in the great tradition of Hindu self-reform. On January 31, 2016, a few days after the Shani Mandir protests, a group of Muslim women approached the Supreme Court to seek entry to mosques, an entry denied to them in Bharat but not by their faith. And all their sisters in our country, whatever their faith will pray for their success. This is a battle that will be fought in courts but also in hearts and minds.
Author & Screenplay Writer