A petition seeking daily worship rights at the Maa Shringar Gauri Sthal within the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi Mosque complex in Varanasi is driven by five regular women—who have shown extraordinary courage and initiative.
Who are these ordinary women? And what drove them to take on this tall fight without any political affiliations or backing?
Originally from Maharashtra, Lakshmi Devi moved to Varanasi after marriage. Her husband, Sohanlal Arya, VHP vice-president for Varanasi ‘prant’, was the first to claim the black stone structure found inside the “wuzukhana” of the Gyanvapi mosque was a Shivling. In an interview with the media, he expressed how he was the first one to file a petition regarding the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi Mosque complex in 1985 in Varanasi.
Lakshmi Devi, a housewife who has studied till intermediate and does not get out much, decided to join the legal battle, as she, along with others, could not perform puja at the Maa Shringar Gauri site regularly and felt sad to see the statue of the sacred Nandi Bull (Lord Shiva’s carrier) “waiting for him”.
Not affiliated with any organisations or outfits herself, 40-year-old Sita Sahu runs a small general store along with her husband, Balgopal Sahu. The mother-of-three mentioned in a media interview how her filing the petition has only got to do the ill-treatment they suffered while trying to worship Maa Gauri at the said premises.
Born and raised in Varanasi, Pathak is a housewife and the daughter of Dayashankar Tripathi, mahant of the well-known Laat Bhairav temple in Varanasi. Rekha strongly believes that women cannot perform pooja at the chaukhat (platform behind barricading), and it has to be done inside the temple. She joined the fight to get the basic right to be able to worship Maa Gauri properly.
Vyas runs a small beauty parlour from her home, about 1.5km away from the complex, where she lives with her husband, Vikram Vyas. She is not affiliated with any political or social group but is only interested in getting access to worship Maa Gauri.
The invisible driver of the Shringar Gauri petition, Rakhi Singh, is a social activist based out of Delhi. She is a founding member of the Vedic Sanatan Sangh, and her uncle Jitendra Singh is heading it. Also, a believer of Maa Shringar Gauri, she apparently met the other petitioners during a Satsang in Varanasi.