Gender Equality vs Religious Practices
General studies 1:
- Role of women and women’s organization, women related issues, Social empowerment
General studies 2:
- Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.
In News: Supreme Court of India has observed that the right of a woman to pray is a constitutional right and does not depend on laws.
- There is no concept of a private temple in a public place and therefore there could be no discrimination on the basis of gender and physiology.
- The age notification is arbitrary and conveniently leaves out the girl who is nine years old or the woman who is 51 years.
- Restricting women’s entry into religious spaces is not only against the principle of equality as enshrined in the Indian Constitution but also acts as a barrier to their socio-cultural development.
The question of equal rights for women in religions seems to have ambushed us with the eruption of activism and debate around Shani Shingnapur and Sabarimala, temples where women are not allowed to enter, and the Haji Ali shrine, where women worshippers are not allowed into the saint’s mausoleum since 2011.
The Supreme Court’s observation that the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala is “against the constitutional mandate’’ is a welcome assertion of equality between men and women.
Women ‘polluting’ religious spaces: How the idea came about?
Attitudes developed around patriarchal interpretations of religious belief have defined and shaped the social and cultural contexts of Indian women resulting in their disempowerment and second-class status. In India, where politics uses religion as a tool to manipulate the masses, women bear the brunt of the consequences of cultural attitudes and the impact of religion and politics in their particular milieu.
Patriarchy: Premised upon the notion of women’s inferiority and impurity, which then becomes a justification for their subordination.
Menstruation and pregnancy are most commonly cited as the factors causing ‘pollution’. One main notion is about menstruation, in which it is believed that women are unclean, filthy and possess negative energy during this time, so they should be in solace or must remain outside or far away from any worship place.
Threat to the Religious structure: The other popular myth associated with the denial of entry is that women who are ‘sexually needy and mischievous’ are a threat to the religious structure and the men associated with it.
A common way of controlling the sexuality of women was by referring to the innate “wicked nature of women” which if left uncontrolled could lead to chaos in society. A large number of texts of the period starting from the middle of the first millennium BC carry explicit references to the evil character of women.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), of which India is a signatory, requires that it gives to its citizens freedom of religion, and the right against discrimination on the basis of gender.
- India is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR).
- India is also a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979 (CEDAW), which requires India to eliminate discrimination against women and recognize that they should be treated at par with men in the eyes of the law.
The Way Forward:
- There is a pressing need for the legislature to create a central law which outlines the rights and duties of administrators and worshipers, especially women. This law should elaborate upon the right to worship and the right against discrimination available to all Indians in the context of entry into places of worship of all religions.
- The judiciary should strike down all laws and customs which allow for such discrimination against women and declare them unconstitutional. Customary international law as well as the various treaties that India is a signatory to bind the nation to the mission of providing its citizens protection against discrimination and the right to worship and practice their religion.
Article 25 (1) which mandates freedom of conscience and right to practise religion. “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion…”
Article 51A(e): Prohibition of women’s entry to the shrine solely on the basis of womanhood and the biological features associated with womanhood is derogatory to women