By Sapan Parekh:
Assam Governor and former chief minister of Orissa J.B Patnaik (no familial tie to the current chief minister Naveen Patnaik) has, it seems turned into a social reformist of sorts.
Last April, when the Governor visited several sattras (Vaishnavite monasteries) of Barpeta district, Assam; though he thoroughly enjoyed the rich legacy left behind by the 15th-century saint Srimanta Sankardev, but was baffled by the exclusion of women in sattra affairs. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, Patnaik persuaded the Sattradhikar (spiritual head of a sattra) to allow women into the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine, something traditionally kept out of bound for women for centuries. Such an impromptu and quick dispensation with an old unjust sexist tradition with little political drama drew spontaneous support from the public.
But that was just a stray act. In November, while on a tour of the historic ‘Azan Peer Sahab Dargah’ in Sivasagar, Assam, the Governor replicated his past success. Here at this Dargah, it was disallowed for women to offer namaz. On coming to know of such a tradition, the Governor urged the Dargah authorities to allow women to pray inside which was duly accepted (he is the Governor after all).
Such temples which bar women from worshiping are not unheard of. Take the recent case of the incident in Kolhapur, Maharashtra; where a group of 40 women activists of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), forcibly entered the sanctum sanctorum of the ‘Mahalaxmi Temple’ to break a 2,000-year-old tradition which banned women from entering the temple (1) or the case of ‘Uma Maheshwar Mandir’ in Pune (2) which follows similar practice.
In this rapidly progressing world, where more and more women are breaking glass ceilings, many traditions have gone for a toss on their own or by legislative action because they were either socially unjust (sati, child marriage) or just plain illogical. But barring of worship for women is still prevalent in certain parts of the country because of certain sticklers of the old school who insist that age-old traditions be blindly continued even today.
What the Assam Governor has shown by his out of ordinary act is that he is a true upholder of gender equality that is ingrained in our constitution. Regardless of his “alleged” escapades and disgraceful fall from power (3 and 4), it seems to me that other politicians should follow his lead in such cases, thereby becoming social crusaders in furthering the cause of the women and the marginalised.
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