It was a week like any other: a bit of political conversation, election updates, Narendra Modi speeches, cricket talks and so on.
And then came the news of Shani Shingnapur opening the gates to its inner sanctum for women. Not that it was sudden - Bombay High Court's decision had pretty much built the premise. Not that it was willfully done - from police force to quoting religious beliefs, everything was used to decry protesting women's demands. Not that it came easy - it took a long, unabashed struggle from a group of women to achieve this feat.
But it happened. The unwritten code of gender discrimination on the doors of a deity was finally broken.
The religious and tradition part of this entire development makes it remarkable. Cultures have seen these two being used as the excuse for discrimination and creation of social hierarchies, followed to the extent that the restrictions themselves become "beliefs" in the public perception.
I experienced it first-hand during a conversation I had with somebody after this development; the person was clear: "Women should go to all temples but with Shani God that's how it has worked. Women (or Laxmi) shouldn't go near Shani. This all was a publicity stunt."
"Why does it have to work like this?" I prodded, ignoring the publicity stunt part.
"People in that village believe that this is how it should be. Religion is a sensitive issue. Where is the issue of offending women when this is how it has been for centuries?"
"But if news reports are true, the restriction was imposed just 400 years ago; not too far away in this million-year-old civilisation. Wasn't it then a relatively recent development?"
"Even if it was, it might have been a manifestation of old religious beliefs. Who are we to question that?"
"If a restriction can be imposed in a later era because of prevalent beliefs and perceptions, why shouldn't it be lifted in another era for the same reasons?"
The conversation didn't drag for long because we didn't want it to turn into an argument, and also because not having read the religious texts that prescribe these rules, I didn't want to question or support those. But it offers a glimpse into the complicated relationship between traditions and their followers; often they are followed because that's how they have been passed on by previous generations.
That's where lies the significance of this deviation by the Shani Shingnapur trust. The decision, or achievement, is significant beyond its immediate impact of granting women equal treatment on the temple campus. In the larger scheme of things, this might just be the beginning of breaking and rewriting of various such rules that deny half the population their right to fair treatment.
The changes shouldn't be limited to a place of worship, section, or village. Rules that are imposed, or changed, in any era lay the foundation for the future course of existing cultures. They decide the heritage of traditions that we pass on to future generations.
What happened is no minor feat. It's not every day that religious practices are bent in the name of rights and equality. That it took a high court order, and initial tactic of making the sanctum sanctorum unaccessible for men to keep women away, offers a glimpse of society's resistance in changing the status quo. That there have been few voices of dissent shows it is not an easy path ahead. But discriminatory traditions should be challenged and weeded out.
For once, I don't care if it was a publicity stunt. I don't care if people behind it have any political inclination or ambition. When a age-old religious rule breaks to include the excluded, it prepares ground for many similar changes to happen. It might be a small beginning of many such social changes.