Saturday, April 30, 2016

I support Trupti Desai

Trupti Desai has been making the headlines recently for her organization, Bhumata Brigade, and its daring attempts to fight what it calls discrimination against women in places of religious worship. She tasted success in being able to worship at the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, and has now taken to applying her energies to the famous Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. In that process, she has knocked on the doors of the Bombay High Court and has led marches to the temple, finally being allowed access to it, and thus breaking a 400-year old tradition that kept women out of the core of the temple.

In that process of course, she has faced a lot of hurdles - from politicians to the temple trust and even the Indian right wing (of which this author is a part). We support her and her goals. She has been accused of targeting rather harmless Hindu traditions while ignoring much more serious ones in (what else?) Islam. Perhaps it was that accusation that led her to focus on Haji Ali. Whatever the be case, it is a fact that there is no sanction for discrimination against women in any sphere in the Vedas, which form the core of the Hindu faith. Therefore, any and all so-called traditions can be broken, because they do not derive from the Vedas. Moreover, even if that were not the case, it is a fact that in today's day and age, women are equal and deserve equal opportunities, whether in matters of faith or in law. Therefore, either Hinduism reforms itself or gets blown away by the winds of change.

And why is this so surprising? Doesn't the Bhagwad Gita itself talk about change, and how the world changes through the ages? Change should not be a matter of surprise or even antagonism in Hinduism - it should be welcomed. And on the comparison with Islam, why is it OK for Hindu shrines to discriminate against women, just because Islamic ones do? It is not. Instead, Hindu temples must stand out in pride that they welcome everyone - men, women, and transgenders - to worship their gods. Discriminatory policies should not be a source of pride, but of shame. If Hindu institutions can be better than others, than why not?

As for the Islamic shrines such as the Haji Ali dargah, they too must reform, for that is the way it works in a secular, democratic society such as India. How long will Muslim women, living alongside Hindu women, tolerate the discrimination meted out to them while their Hindu counterparts continue to break down walls? How long will blind faith, hidden behind the veneer of pseudo-secularism, dominate over the indomitable human spirit? Long, certainly, but not forever.

The only problem that can be sensed here is with the Indian judiciary - always very quick to (rightly) denounce discrimination in Hindu institutions, but treating Islamic (and others') ones with kid gloves. While the HC deserves commendation for ordering the temple to open up and rightly give way to women, one cannot be sure if they would do the same thing for Haji Ali, because the two-nation theory is so deeply ingrained in the politically correct pseudo-secularism that the country has become addicted to, that even the judiciary is not above it. Ideally, the temple authorities should have resolved the issue with Ms. Desai without having the court step in, but their unreasonable and unjustified stand forced it to happen. Just how long will the Haji Ali authorities be prepared to fend off modernity?

Trupti Desai definitely has a long war ahead in Haji Ali, and we wish her luck, even if the judiciary and society at large (including the Indian Right) is against her. For no force in the world can stop an idea whose time has come. 

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