Women entering Haji Ali, Shani temple is as historic as Rio medals

Showing tremendous dignity in the face of opposition, and a raw courage to fight the good fight, these women are showing India how to fight like women.

 |  4-minute read |   27-08-2016
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2016 will go down as the year Indian women stormed temples, dargahs and the Olympics.

Ancient places of worship and modern sports championships may seem a bit of a leap as victories go, but yet, it is symbolic of the various battles women are fighting in the country, straddling different worlds at one time.

Even as the USA celebrated Women's Equality Day on August 26 - to commemorate the day women were granted the right to vote in 1920 - Muslim women in India were allowed entry into the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah by the Bombay High Court in response to a petition filed by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Zakia Soman, co founder of the BMMA, is the face of this victory.

The win in the Bombay High Court brings to mind a similar battle fought earlier this year by Mumbai based social organisation, Bhumata Brigade, led by Trupti Desai. In April, she and fellow activists entered the Hindu shrine of Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, where women were previously barred, after the local government and Bombay High Court directed the temple officials to allow women entry based on their constitutional rights.

Also read: Why Lord Shani's anger will continue to strike down Indian women

The Haji Ali victory for women comes close on the heels of the success at the Rio Olympics. Here also, Indian women lead from the front - badminton player PV Sindhu of Hyderabad got India her sole silver medal, and wrestler Sakshi Malik of Haryana who got us our sole bronze.

womenbd_082716073753.jpg Jubilant Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan members celebrate the ruling of the Bombay High Court, that women be allowed to enter the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah, in Mumbai on August 26.

The sports writer Sharda Ugra, a friend and my former colleague at India Today, wrote a wonderful piece that went viral titled "They fought like girls", bringing focus, fire, passion, dedication and tremendous spirit to their sport in order to get India its only two medals at the Olympics, and as the coach Pullela Gopichand put it "saved India's honour at the world stage."

Also read: Why India's temples and politics need Trupti Desai

This is also true of the women who won at the dargah and the temple. Over the few months since Desai and her brigade began their battle, we have witnessed the most ferocious opposition: detained by cops, roughed up inside the temple and threatened by right wing chauvinists, only to emerge victorious when the shrine's doors were finally opened up for women.

The Muslim women's group knocking at the doors of the Haji Ali Dargah, like Desai's brigade, have also faced stiff resistance from conservative groups who put forward various reasons, from safety of women to scriptures for denying entry, all of which were rejected by the court and constitutional right to equality was upheld.

These temple/dargah and Olympic stormers have given us reason to cheer and celebrate our new women-stars. They are neither privileged, nor celebrities, and while they fought different battles, what binds them together is that they symbolise a fiery, go-getting, never-say-die spirit of women that we can't help but love. Where role models are hard to come by in the public domain, 2016 has been kinder than other years and the windfall of fiery, inspirational women role models isn't stopping.

Ramya, Kannada actress and ex-member of Parliament, also hit the headlines last week when she was named in a sedition complaint after she refuted Manohar Parrikar's view that "Pakistan is hell." Unlike Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, facing defamation charges over his "RSS killed Mahatma" remark, who somewhat toned down his comments, Ramya stuck to her statement. She even went on television to elaborate why she thought upon her visit that the people of Pakistan were nice and hospitable, and it was not at all "hell", even as BJP strongly criticised her remarks. When goons threw eggs at her car, she again calmly reiterated that she stands by her remarks and is "not at all worried".

Also read: PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar fought like women and won despite India

The odd role model does not change societies overnight; sports is not the corporate world; and the temple/dargah gender wins themselves may be small, if not insignificant, compared to the larger gender battles looming, as many are quick to point out. But it's worthwhile, for the moment to forget all that and to just enjoy these emerging new stars and celebrate them.

Showing calm resolve and tremendous dignity in the face of opposition, a steely determination to see the battle to the end, and a raw courage to fight the good fight, these women are showing India how to fight like women. May their numbers forever grow.

Writer

Kanika Gahlaut Kanika Gahlaut @kanikagahlaut

The writer is a journalist of more than two decades and author of Among the Chatterati (Penguin India).

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