With Trupti Desai asking for equal entry into religious places, Madame Meow wonders about her demands, and why there’s so much resistance from the common public.
Fiery feminist Trupti Desai entered into Haji Ali Dargah earlier this week promising to soon enter into the sanctum sanatorium. ‘Mai wapas aaongi,’ she had cried out on her previous visit, somewhere on the 28th of April, which had been a most spectacular day. The protests had started somewhere in the afternoon with a motley group of sari-and-salwar-clad women standing alongside venerable looking men, alternated with younger, shabbier ones. The only sign of anything Muslim among the protestors seemed to be the rare Arabic-poster. A moustachioed man was singing in nasal harmony, what I suppose was the “Haji Ali Sab Ke Liye” campaign’s theme song as the public – most unperturbed men, women and young girls – continued their walk into their respective parts of the dargah over the narrow shop-lined path.
People who cared: Reporters. Why they cared: Desai. Why Desai: She made good TV, people like this national girls-versus-boys debate thingie.
Desai: She’d just about left Pune; the protestors swore to continue till she arrived. TV camerapersons milled around them in the closely police-d enclosure, and they continued louder than ever.
When Desai finally reached later that evening, the group had long disbanded. Those who remained were a couple of residual loyal protesters, and a throng of excited news-persons, who having waited the entire day in the sun, now fuelled by the Haji Ali Juice Centre, needed something worth the Input Desk. One of them was your beloved writer, who, Boom in hand was jostling against a perfectly manner less business reporter, who had no business here, literally.
The rest of the world functioned normally; cars went on honking on merrily while this ‘protest’ carried on here, with no supporters, no onlookers – just the willpower of one lady.
“Whom are you fighting for?” I asked confidently, having reached Desai through the quagmire of reporters around her, wondering if they showed interns on TV. Setting sun in her (little) hair, the once pristine, now debated Dargah behind her, Desai flew into an ideological flight of fancy.
Thanks to efforts of Trupti Desai, women can now visit all parts of the Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik, the Mahalaxmi temple in Kolhapur and ofcourse, the Shani Signapur temple in the Ahmednagar district. Due to her continued efforts, perhaps the Haji Ali Dargah Trust shall have to reverse their 2011 ruling that shall allow ladies to visit the sanctum sanatorium as well – where the body of the pir lies. Women who are happy, please raise your hands. Excellent, I see you all are educated women, with bones of activism in your bodies. Women with your hands down, so un-feministic, what pray is your reason?
“She doesn’t know what she is doing,” said the lady angrily, after the initial moments of awkwardness before the camera. “Men and women are seen by god equally. God won’t not listen to a woman’s prayers if she is standing a short distance away!” “But if they are equal, then why the difference” asked my senior reporter. “Don’t know about you, but in Islam we don’t measure devotion by distance,” scoffed the lady.
Walking through the public at Haji Ali, I heard echoes of exactly what several other newspapers had reported from Shani Signapur, Kolhapur and Nashik. The local public, was not happy. While the population of the small villagein Ahmednagar, lamented evil happenings, death and famines as a result of ‘Desai’s outrage’, the population here were not amused by a Hindu woman assuming knowledge of their shariat law or equating a dargah to a temple. Journalists milled around, whispering about conspiracy, publicity stunts, and talk of larger agendas that had nothing to do with gender equality.
“Whom are you fighting for, if these Muslim women themselves don’t want what you ask for?” I had asked Desai. She had spoken at length about the Bhumata Brigade, her NGO and it’s agendas, the Muslim women from the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan who had approached her and then the court for equality, the The Maharashtra Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, which allows everyone entry into any temple. But in it all, one sentence came out that struck me, “They don’t know that they can demand equality,” she said to me, “this may not convince them, but maybe of the hundred women who get angry, two will ask the right questions.”
And that, that was the essence of this rally for me. They don’t know they can demand equality – why?
Women were denied entry into the 400 year old Shani Signapur temple because the deity Shani or the lord of Saturn – the creator, and deliberate destroyer, is a bachelor god. Popular lore calls him a bachelor, which is the reason women aren’t allowed to into the enclosure where his representative boulder lies. In spite of his bachelorhood, Shani bhagvan somehow has four wives. Convenient, isn’t it?
Haji Ali, like almost every other dargah is a burial for a peer, or a male priest – the only kind that exists, because Islam and Christianity have fundamentally made women inferior to men as they, in the face of Eve or Hawwah the temptress, are to apologize for all eternity for the eternal sin.
Recent dialogues and pro-Hindu sentiment have desired to showcase Hinduism as a liberal religion where once woman was equal to man in status and knowledge. A frequent example of this is cited as the supposed liberal outlook ancient India (whatever it was called then) had towards sex in the Vedic ages. Whether this was true or not, I don’t know, but Hinduism surely developed into a religion where the woman is always in the second position. Sita, the tolerant who gave test after test to prove her purity; Draupadi who recited a list of ‘to-do’s for a dutiful wife, including how ‘she must eat after he does’; Durga, second to none, mother goddess who lived on the whims of Shiva; Kali, who’s very image with her tongue out is because in a terrible dance against evil on earth she stepped on her husband – the fierce woman, frozen and worshipped in the moment where she realizes her ‘mistake’. That of having stepped on her swami.
Does this religion preach independence or does it preach liberation through a good husband who shall ‘allow’ you liberty.
So, what equality are we fighting for? Equality to pray and offer obeisance to these deities within religions that are structurally sexist and misogynistic? While Desai’s dialogue definitely had people questioning menstruation, equality before god, and that of gender – the argument seems to have little effect on the very women who are subject to these rules. They themselves are unmoved, even supportive of ‘letting things be.’
Why? Because they’ve been brought up like this.
They have grown up within these religions where the person who read namaz and performed aarti was always a man. Where mother goddesses were always second to their husbands giving them massages on sheshnaag and whatnot. Yes, there needs to be a change in the way things have been so long, but how can there be when the very religion preaches certain message of misogyny?
If women over India are satisfied being ‘equal but separate’ it begs the question – what messages are their getting from their religions? Do these religions themselves, and not just their practices need an intervention against misogyny?
Has the footprint of Religion left the imprints of misogyny? That’s for you to decide.