As a woman I don’t want to worship at a place that doesn’t welcome me


Preeti Sharma Menon

At the outset let me state these are my personal views.

For centuries religion has played a dominating role in human life; made by humans, propagated and perpetrated by humans, religion is inescapably ridden with all the malaises and frailties that afflict humanity. Today the discrimination by certain religious shrines against women is a hotly discussed subject.

The truth is that all religions discriminate against women. Islam, Hindusim, even Buddhism and Christianity have kept women disenfranchised from the right to worship equally.

Discrimination of any kind has only one root gene – the misuse of power. Throughout history, the more powerful have used their power to abuse the weaker sections. Men used their stronger physical power to abuse women, invaders used their military power to abuse invaded populations, rulers used their power to abuse the ruled, the stronger and dominant religion or race or class or caste abused the lesser powerful one. Doesn’t speak much for the race of humans, does it?

Yet I do believe humans are not that evil. We love, we care, we nourish and we sacrifice. There is inherent goodness in all of us. It is the heady affliction of power that brings about social injustices, and therefore it is this power that must be redistributed equitably, such that no one section becomes so powerful that it can perpetrate excesses on another.

However, power cannot be snatched and redistributed, that is just a way to pass the weapon from one hand to another. If a social evil has to be destroyed, then peace is the only weapon that will destroy it – India brought satyagraha into world and relegated bloody revolutions to humanity’s uncivilized past.

Our social and political reformers, from Jyotiba Phule to Mahatma Gandhi, changed the fabric of Indian society and won us our freedom, by changing mindsets and by empowering the underprivileged.

If we have to change the way religions treat women, or change anything at all, we need the same two pronged approach – one, we have to protect, encourage and empower the weaker sections of society, give them a helping hand to better their lives, and two, we have to spread awareness and understanding among the more powerful sections. Clearly this is a long arduous task, and hardly anyone is up for it in this world of instant everything – so instead of a consistent fight to change society, we see today vulgar, inconsistent, outrages that divide the society into us and them, rather than uniting us.

I first looked bemusedly at this plan to storm religious shrines. The feminist in me then tried to find some merit in it; but I honestly could not. Firstly it is a harsh measure and harsh measures can only stoke anger and deepen divides.

Secondly there is constitutional right to freedom of worship and if some men want to pray alone, or some nuns want to closet themselves it’s their choice. Thirdly, there are far more serious issues of discrimination against women that need our immediate attention, issues which are a matter of life and death. But most importantly do I, as a woman, really want to go to a place of worship that does not want to let me worship there? No I don’t.

For me prayer is private. Religion is a family affair. It gives me strength and encourages me to be a better person. I want to see the sanctity of religion to remain ensconced within my home.

I don’t like seeing religion hawked in bazaars. I don’t like it packaged on television. In fact, I want religion out of public life. And there is only one way to do it… social reform, consistent, dogged social reform.

The one good thing that has happened is that the issue of discrimination against women in religion has got attention. As also the shameful treatment meted out to menstruating women in homes and religious places.

So I am impressed by the guts of these women, yet I strongly feel that their methods are incorrect. I would rather the women use satyagraha to force the shrine authorities to give up their archaic, unfair stance. The only way to bring about change is through compassion and patience. I know, the cynic in us will say that it will never happen in a hundred years. But it does – satyagraha ended the British Empire, it ended apartheid.

Preeti Sharma Menon is a senior AAP leader and views expressed here are of the author’s.

(Photo: Courtesy ANI)