Sunday, April 10, 2016

Gender discrimination at places of worship, a legacy!

Gender discrimination at places of worship, a legacy!
Reporters Name | CAMIL PARKHE | Sunday, 10 April 2016 AT 11:08 AM IST
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The entry of women at Shani Temple’s sanctum sanctorum has been covered by national media and is being viewed as a historic event. 

The 300-year-old tradition of not allowing women at this place has been broken. But it is not just Shani temple or Hindu temples where this tradition of restricting women is practised. This really is a legacy issue. At dozens of places, it has been followed and then at some it has gradually changed.

Pune witnessed a Satyagraha in 1929 to seek opening of the historic Parvati temple to the untouchables. The temple trustees had then maintained that it was a private temple and therefore untouchables will not be allowed to enter. One of the leaders of the Satyagraha was Congress leader Narhar Vishnu Gadgil. Socialist leader SM Joshi was also one of the participants. During the Satyagraha, the temple gates were closed and stone pelting also took place, injuring some Satyagrahis seriously.

A couple of years earlier, there was also a satyagraha to seek opening of the Chaudar Tank at Mahad in Konkan to the untouchables. The struggle for opening the famous Kalaram temple in Nashik to the untouchables had also continued for some years. The Vitthal temple at Pandharpur was thrown open to untouchables only when Gandhian leader and writer Pandurang Sadashiv alias Sane Guruji resorted to a fast unto death in May 1947 seeking to open the temple to members of all castes.

The resistance to open religious shrines to all communities was however not confined to Hinduism alone. In southern states of India, people belonging to various high castes as well as the untouchables embraced Christianity in the 17th and 18th century. Retaining the castes rigidity even after the conversions, these regions had separate churches and also separate burial grounds for the high castes and the Dalit Christians - a practice which was connived by the Church hierarchy until a century earlier.

The present controversy over the opening of the Shani Shingnapur temple to women is only the latest movement on ending gender and other kinds of discrimination at religious shrines. There are some outdated or barbaric traditions in all religions, which need to change in keeping with the prevalent modern times.

Unfortunately, whenever someone or a group demands reforms in religious practices, they are accused of being anti-religion, heretic, iconoclast or even atheists. This is what exactly happened when a German Catholic priest Martin Luther revolted against the Church’s practices in the 16th century and later became the father of Protestant reformation in the church. All religions - be it Hinduism, Christianity or Islam or any other religion - have to keep pace with the contemporary period to fulfil the inspirations of their community members and accommodate the needed changes and reforms in religious practices.

Throughout the ages, the human civilization has been male dominated and even the God is most often conceived as a male identity. Naturally all religions have several traditions and practices which are gender discriminatory. The right to preside over religious services or to conduct rites for various ceremonies like christening, final rites etc are to this date prerogatives of the males alone.

This is despite the fact that there are no theological or scriptural grounds to defend the existing gender discrimination in religious hierarchy or practises. It will take a long time before there is a change in this situation. The society and leaders of all religions need to ensure that the needed religious reforms are introduced to make these religions relevant to all sections of the faithful.

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