Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why I Don’t Get ‘let us inside the Shani temple’ Kind of Activism

Also published on Huffington Post India
Pic Courtesy - IndianExpress.com

The last few years I have come across an evolving brand of feminism - women who are so proud to be a feminist that they’ll flaunt it like their newly acquired Birkin. Mostly hashtag feminists, they’ll mount the high horse of morality and slay anyone who disagrees with them. And then there is this other set that treats it like leprosy and cannot stop telling anyone who’s willing to listen - I am not a feminist, yaa. Please, please, don’t stop loving me! Here, let me post yet another cleavage shot to prove my point.

Little wonder I feel like a borderline feminist. I don’t relate to either of them. I felt acutely embarrassed when I didn’t get women outraging about women who keep a Karvachauth fast to be able to remain a Mrs for the rest of their life. Had it been to protest against its blatant commercialisation, I would have happily joined in. I mean this is the time when salons, jewellery and sari stores do roaring business and women get to strut their stuff in embellishments bright enough to light up Times Square, right? But calling it a patriarchal conspiracy to keep women hungry and at the mercy of their husbands is a little too much to digest. If she can starve for an upcoming wedding, or to fit into her new skinnies, why not for a man and also get to make him feel guilty as hell!

If we expect men to respect the life choices we make, why can’t we respect another woman’s choice to starve for her husband’s long life! Remember, all good men are either married or gay and one of them happens to be your spouse.


What baffles me the most is, while we are calling Karvachauth a regressive, meaningless ritual, we are also spearheading a movement that demands women be allowed inside temples like Shani Shignapur and Sabrimala, traditionally meant for only male devotees. At a time when organised religion is increasingly becoming the cause for all strife and is more divisive than spiritual, this new found religiosity puzzle me no end.

Now let’s think of these ‘reserved for men only shrines’ as the women’s only coach in the Delhi Metro. Now imagine a bunch of aggressive men demanding equal rights as women and to be let in! Surely we’ll turn into female incarnates of Lord Shani (of Shani Shignapur fame) and send such strong vibrations their way, these men will start wishing they were not born in the first place. And why not! The Metro coach is our sanctorum sanctum where we can squat on the floor, do our makeup from scratch, doze on our neighbour’s shoulder without the fear of body odour. Why, I’ve even got a lap dance from ‘thoda adjust karlo’ enthusiasts!

I am sure male devotees share similar sentiments while resisting female presence in shrines like Shani Shignapur. A place where they can pray to their God without females who deliberately dress tantalisingly to distract them from their spiritual quest. It’s their women’s only coach in the Mumbai local where they can unwind and gossip while they shell peas for the evening meal. A refuge where men can truly be themselves without the fear of getting nagged and taunted for misdeeds they have no recollection of.

If women can have reservations in trains, buses, queues, seats in Parliament and be exempted from the odd-even scheme, why can’t men be extended the same privileges? So what if it is in a measly number of temples.

But no, we women refuse to leave them in peace! We have to go where every man has gone and prove to them we can do it better, even when it comes to fasting and praying.

I have always prided myself as a woman first and a feminist later. Which is why I have never wanted to be equal to a man. It’s because I’ve always felt this fight for equality is based on the assumption that men are superior. Sorry, but I don’t agree. If men enjoy certain privileges, so do women. We’ve both had to fight our own set of battles to get to where we want to.

So, when a woman wants to be able to do everything a man does, she’s not fighting for equality. Rather, she’s inadvertently placing him on a pedestal and aiming to reach that pinnacle. Tell me, how many men aspire to be as loving, caring, emotionally invested as us?

I feel keeping women away from certain religious shrines on basis of flimsy and not so flimsy excuses is the ultimate ode to the power we wield over men. We’ve been told for centuries that it’s women who come in between a man and his greatness. Buddha had to leave his wife to start a new religion. The naughty Indra never tired of breaking tapasya of sages by sending Apsaras to seduce them. Just our mere presence is so distracting, we have to be kept off religious premises at all costs to let our men focus on all things godly.

When women were finally allowed inside monastic orders in India, they were forced to follow more rules than men. They had not only to control their own desires, they also had to ensure they did not 'tempt' men. In temples that house women-shunning deities such as Shani and Ayyappa, celibacy is seen as the hallmark of religiosity and purity. 


If you look at the number of female deities, they easily outnumber their male counterparts. And this particular gentleman from Bihar has amply demonstrated how much we care for our Maatas by filing a petition against Lord Ram for the ‘cruelty showed’ towards his wife, Sita. 

We still think that we have to fight for equality?

Rather than storming in temples that uphold the customary exclusion of women in the name of equality, we women should revel in the power we hold over men’s senses. Let’s not grudge them the few remaining bastions of male only sanctuaries where they can heal themselves from the constant onslaught from feminists.

Don’t we all need an oasis where we can burp, yawn, scratch our unmentionables away from the judging eyes of the opposite sex!

And women please, can we get rid of this militant stance against men! By doing so, we are only proving them right when they try to brand feminists as an unhappy, vitriolic, power hungry, man hating fiends. Also, not all traditional rituals are regressive, meant to hold back women. In fact, our forefathers were a lot cooler than us and made sure there’s a scientific rationale behind most age-old rituals. Let’s try and understand them first before agitating about stuff we have little or no knowledge of.

It’s overzealousness that kills a well-intentioned movement like feminism and gives rise to many more women who’d rather hug a lizard than call themselves a feminist.

http://blog.blogadda.com/2016/02/09/tangy-tuesday-picks-february-09-2016-indian-bloggers-blogadda



73 comments:

  1. The entire episode puts the other genuine demands of women to seek equality some how does not go down well. I am all for any women goes any place where men go, but to raise a storm for this when there are far more bigger issues of a whole populace of women in country not able to enjoy even basic rights, looks prudish.

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  2. What a sane piece Purba, totally with you. Like many other ISMS I am confused about the brand of feminism being played out.
    One, when a woman linked to politics spearheads a protest, I am not sure if it's about women. There is hidden personal agenda to gain mileage. Two, it is difficult to link religion, faith and social norms with equality. Because then men can demand entry into ladies sangeet and women's hostels. Three, as you say, our ancestors were wiser than we are. Not allowing women while they are menstruating was perhaps a cleanliness aspect. Not because women are impure during this time but because in the absence of sanitary napkins, the stained cloth or blood stains could desecrate the premises. To me it is as simple as simple as avoid going to a temple when one is having watery loose motions. Yes, there is patriarchy as we don't have a woman Pope, a woman Maulavi, a woman priest, but things are changing. Four, if a temple rule( like club rules) has certain codes there is little point in protesting on the streets. One can take the judicial route instead of taking a political route. Five, I'd rather pray at home than touch a god who doesn't want to be touched. After all, isn't religion all about faith and respect? Six, most Shani temples allow women but prohibit women from touching the diety which is fine. Why create a fuss?
    Well written piece.

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    1. And an even better comment. Was nodding my head throughout.

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    2. And I doubt if the judiciary can intervene. It's role is limited to ensuring religious freedom and equal treatment of all religions by the state.

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    3. I completely agree with Alka in all the points. But it is only Hindu temples that come under the law, apparently. How many of the protesters actually care about worshipping in the temples? Protesting for protesting sake and outraging for outraging sake have become the new social status. I am glad you have written the post, Purba.

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  3. alka: you have actually penned my thoughts, like in is the lady spearheading the protest truly believes in the movement or it's only a political mileage.
    two what if men start asking for reservations in trains etc be abolished. or for that matter 33% reservation quota with the argument of women should have equal oppurtunity as men to fight elections( meaning no special reservation), no womens hostels no exclusive womens colleges... ya I know it absurd argument...as absurd as the Shani Shringapur equal demand right. having said that yes I am a pro feminist.

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    1. I'm all for feminism but for the right causes.

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  4. Without categorizing it into a particular segment I wish to submit this is the most brilliant article I have read since long! Wish more men and women from amongst us were capable of thinking on these lines..Thank you Purba for this rare gem:)

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    1. You are being too kind.
      Thank you so much.

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  5. I echo your thoughts...there is nothing like live and let live...if an extreme section of people do not allow women to go to a temple why have movement for it? let it be...why make life so difficult for yourself and waste the beauty of living towards such causes. I would be more amused if there will be a movement to have a common urinal for men and women.

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    1. We already have unisex restrooms.

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  7. Purba, women willing to go and protest outside temples that deny them entry cannot be "hashtag feminists" (which I believe means people who are only activists online). India is very patriarchal and frankly, closing places of worship to women makes as much sense as a men-only golf clubs in this day and age.

    As for "we women should revel in the power we hold over men’s senses" that's just ridiculous. If anything, Indian society needs to stop putting women on pedestals and start treating them like human beings. And a big step in that direction is having equality in public spaces, which includes temples. And because of that, I see the women protesting about this temple more as a Rosa Parks-style "won't get off this bus" moment than anything else.

    PS. I'm male, born mid-80s.

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    1. I'm sure many share the same conviction as you, which is why there's a movement in the first place.

      The notion of equality as I've mentioned before is based on the assumption of inequality.
      I'm more for equity.

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  8. Thanks for giving us the true meaning of feminism Purba.

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    1. I hope you don't mean in it in a sarcastic manner :p

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  9. You already know my take on this. I find these kind of protests giving feminism a bad name. It's protesting for the sake of protesting.

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    1. More so because it's become so easy these days.

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  11. Purba, in Kerala there are also women only festivals and temples. This is just political posturing to get mileage. They should just drop it and instead focus on female foeticide or something.

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    1. It was mentioned in the post previously. Had to edit it out.

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  12. Another epic post Purba ! I applaud at ur ability to express so clearly.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Ananya.

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  14. It was a decade ago when I declared to my son Rayyan (14 years) that Women are equal to men and he laughed out loud. Maa, what on the earth makes you feel women are equal to men, they are far more superior he announced. It took me sometime and some gyaan from him to realize what he says is true. I loved reading your article once again Purba. It is so unfortunate I could not meet you in Mumbai. I am an ardent fan of your satires.

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    1. Sometimes are kids are wiser than us.

      And I'm in awe of your courage.

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  15. this is an epic post Purba. Logical, sensible and blended with your special brand of humour !

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  16. Spot on!

    Some of the Malluland temples don't let men inside unless they go topless. Sadly no feminists are fighting for the same rights. An unfair world indeed..

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    1. Hahahahaha...may Ayyappa grant your wishes

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  17. Glad you wrote about it. I didn't even mention it for the fear of being bashed up on social media. I even shared this post. I never understood this kind of feminism. That and why women can't do pooja while having periods. Women are equal to men. I feel like yelling at the top of my lungs....stop it, you morons. No, they are not and can never be. Each is different in their own way. Each have their own importance.

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  18. I agree and I also disagree! I agree that this kind of agitation leads nowhere and doesn't help anyone come to a better understanding. I disagree with your saying that there is a logical explanation for keeping women out of these temples.

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    1. Temples are patriarchal setups in the first place, controlled by priests that are usually men. The rules are laid out by them.

      Certainly not a place I'll seek for spirituality.

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  19. While you have raised some valid points in your post Purba, I still fail to see why you have failed to understand the barring of women from temples. Temples are places of worship which ought to be open to both men and women equally. It is not a place for 'reservation' and I feel that your argument is really weak here. Barring women just because they might be 'unclean' on certain days is another thing that is preposterous. Feminism might have been overused in many places, without sound judgement, but here, in this case, I strongly feel that they have been denied something by denigrating their very gender-specific identity.

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    1. 1. We do not need temples to pray. And the devout will respect the rules and stay away anyway.

      2. If there are spaces reserved for men, there are more spaces reserved for women.

      3. Just because its an age old ritual, doesn't necessarily mean it's regressive.

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  20. Okay you have me confused now. I thought I was so clear on this Shani temple issue - not because I'm overly religious but only because I don't like listening to a No without a valid reason or only in the name of tradition. But the way you put it... I find myself agreeing and feeling all empowered too :-). Interesting post.

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    1. Glad you did not call me a regressive feminist :p

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  21. Here I would say is that the Shani temple protest whether symbolic or real sure is getting a lot of attention and is trying to break a taboo that has no logic religious or scientific. Now if going to a temple is a great thing or not is another matter, but I strongly agree with you that there is not point in thinking that whatever men can do is great... look at all the wars started by little men with BIG egos

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    1. I don't even get what the hullabaloo is all about.

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  22. We, I mean men and women are different be it in physical attributes or the things we are good at.... definitely we are equal but not similar....As long as we incorporate the changes that time has facilitated and keep doing our work in harmony society will function well........if women are refused education or equal employment opportunities there is a point to raise a flag but why unnecessarily create an issue out of a temple whose rules have been respected for so many centuries...As you rightly pointed out, feminism is not making a Hoo haa about everything where women have different rules......now let's say the rule is relaxed, would these people be ready to embark on the strenuous uphill journey every year which the starch black clad devotees embark upon year after year..... There are enough temples in dilapidated states in different parts of the country... Setting all 'ism's aside, the energy could be spent on reviving them....

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    1. BTW very well worded sensible post... Too good :)

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    2. Right now the issue that needs our attention is the shameful way the Tanzanian girl was treated in Bangalore.

      Thanks for reading, Jaish

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  23. THat is why most of the movements that start die a quick death, because people start to put in their own agenda into it.. it is sad when genuine needs and wants are ignored by some one who just wants a bit of mileage...

    I am sure there are a MILLION OTHER things and issues that need a immediate attention , how is this temple row going to help the homeless and the hundred who die of hunger.. We indians surly have our priorities wrong..

    by the way I am man and OLD one toooo :) just thought i had mention just in case someone wants to have a GO at me for trying to add other issue's into the Women issues :)

    Bikram's

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    1. Hahahahaha...everyone is scared of the rage of the feminine

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  24. Now let’s think of these ‘reserved for men only shrines’ as the women’s only coach in the Delhi Metro. - Such a perfect analogy!

    This is so well worded; I have read the entire thing twice. So much I agree with, Purba. Thank you for sharing. :)

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    1. Not anyone agreed with my viewpoint :-)

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  25. It may be true that the age old rituals have their own reasons behind it, but today the reasons behind traditions are forgotten and only the practice remains. I'm of the opinion that the temple authorities must themselves give a proper, meaningful answer to their restrictions in the temple instead of naming menstruating women 'impure' to enter it, which seems to have further instigated feminists.

    And then again, spirituality and metro-reservations are entirely different (I don't deny that it was humorous :D). But I do feel allowing entry of females into these temples won't do much good to either of the men or women.

    Anyway, you've put the idea of feminism beautifully. It is such a misunderstood term today, with so many definitions! And I personally prefer to not be associated with because of the same reason.

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    1. I am not even sure what feminism means these days.

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  26. I'm still not very clear on how the devoted religious people deal with the conflicts in their own beliefs. You've pointed out one or two examples of those.

    I'd written about this nonsense of about women's "equality" before. https://sloword.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/womens-equality-day/

    I firmly believe that it isn't about equality. It is about being "fairness". Equal pay, for example, in the west, where women get paid less than men for the same role.

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    1. That's the true definition of feminism - it's not about equality but equity. We need to respect each other first and celebrate rather than ridicule our differences.

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  27. What a nice article,more sane than any of the discussions out there regarding the same. Yes religion has become increasingly divisive and all this is not helping one bit. I just have issue though. We know how devotees desire to visit Mecca atleast once in their life time. Same thing holds true when Christians desire to visit the Holy Land. So if a lady devotee desires to visit these temples, can we deny them? I guess just like in the metro we will have a reservation for only women few months a year to visit the temple, what say?:-)

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    1. Not all temples are meant for worship and Shani Shignapur is one of them.

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  28. Yet another thought provoking article !

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  29. Brilliantly thought provoking and hard hitting as usual. I love the way you define feminism and equality without ever actually defining them. Equality and uniqueness can co-exist and one doesn't have to be sacrificed for the other. A terrific article.

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    1. Not everyone shares your opinion. But thank you so much :-)

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  30. Congratulations! Your blog post was selected for Tangy Tuesday Picks edition on Feb 09, 2016 at BlogAdda.

    Please find it here:
    http://blog.blogadda.com/2016/02/09/tangy-tuesday-picks-february-09-2016-indian-bloggers-blogadda

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  31. I agree for the most part but don't agree on some points. Women need a separate coach in metro or locals not to apply makeup or have a nap, but they need it because there are some vile men who hide in the crowd and molest women while I've never heard any lady trying to feel a man, so their modesty is secure, ours isn't. It is not about equality and for the temple I don't know why women are denied an entry in the first place so can't argue. If it is because the God doesn't want to be touched by a woman then I think its wrong for the women to ask entry but if it is because as you state that men want to scratch something or don't want to be seduced then its wrong on their part. If I have a problem with something I will have to find a remedy myself. I can't make others do things to make myself comfortable. If men want privacy they can pray at home, but they can't ban women for their comfort.

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    1. I feel entry to certain temples was earlier banned for women because of the inhospitable terrain. Not all 'bans' are necessarily discriminatory. But yes, if women are being kept away because they 'defile' the premises, it's certainly discriminatory.

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  32. I appreciate your standpoint here. You have been upvoted here enough, so I would not make it stale by reiterating it. However, what I would like to tell you is that this line had me in splits :-D "Remember, all good men are either married or gay and one of them happens to be your spouse. ". Fan of your humour.

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    1. Glad you saw the humour. Nearly everyone took it seriously.

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  33. I agree, feminism isnt about saying " I can go where you go" to men. That is nagging and nagging isn't feminism. Feminism as I see it is understanding the fairer sex better and respecting them for who they are.

    Great post!

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    1. Let's start with doing away with the term 'fairer sex'.

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  34. Let us do this, in heart
    Deconstruct our walls, apart
    Of your worlds and mine
    Without much ado or wine.

    Let us do this, in a laugh
    Separate the resolute chaff
    of fights that win no cause
    with a hug, a thought, a pause.

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  35. Guess, one of the rare times we'd disagree on the issue. I find this whole thing of disallowing women reeks of capitalist and ugly patriarchy perpetuation in the system. I feel that one should allow to pray and I mean what's so wrong in protesting against a wrong deemed to be right over the year with the caste mentality in the system.
    Yes! It's interesting to get a refreshing debate on the issue with various point of views that makes it a learning curve:)

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  36. It was great to read another kind of a view point on this issue. But as you said this is not about Gods or men. This is about equal rights. No building whether religious or irreligious should deny entry to a woman. Same holds true for the Haji ali dargah. If in the twenty first century women are denied entry into a particular building because they are women or because they menstruate then it definitely needs to be debated and this regressive ancient rule needs to be shunned. Thank you for the vote on my post on fair skin racism. Take care.

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