Finally it happened. Age old discriminatory practice of women being prohibited from entering the core area of Shani temple in Maharashtra in India ended today as activists were allowed to offer worship close to the deity.
Last week the Mumbai High Court had asked the state government to do everything possible to ensure there is no gender discrimination in temple worship. The day after the court ruling the activists who tried to enter the area was physically blocked by local people including large number of women. To circumvent the ruling, temple authorities banned entry of men too to the core area. That move backfired as men devotees got agitated and forced their way into the area in large numbers. Finally administrators relented and came out with a statement that women will be neither encouraged or prevented from entering the core area.
Trupti Desai, the leader of the activist group said she will take the agitation to all other temples which have such discriminatory rules.
Many in Indian atheist circles are not thrilled as they think winning the right to worship a mythical god is not a step forward, but one backward for atheism. But in my view any step that breaks religious traditions,,that reduce the discrimination based on gender, is a positive sign for freethought movement in India. It is utopian to think all theists will directly embrace atheism from an extreme theistic position. It may probably happen only in small steps, and questioning the religious authorities and breaking ancient customs are obviously steps in that direction.