Women’s struggle for equality seems to have reached Kumbh, considered the largest congregation of humanity on earth, where a group of women is jostling to gain an equal foothold. The group is of the sadhvis who have been fighting for a separate space for themselves to erect their own ‘akhada’ at Nashik, where the once-in-12-years event begins Tuesday.
The sadhvis also want the authorities to allow them a special slot to take a dip during the Shahi Snan (holy dip) scheduled on three different dates between August and September.
“I have written to everyone from ministers to the collector demanding a separate ‘akhada’ for the sadhvis to ensure their safety and security,” says Trikal Bhavnath Saraswati Maharaj, showing a bunch of letters. “I was promised that my demand would be met but I haven’t heard anything from anybody,” adds the sadhvi.
According to her, the sadhvis who were never part of any akhada — an organisation of the different sects of sadhus who are followers of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu — have finally managed to come together this time around.
“Women participate in huge numbers even in religious activities and should be given the equal opportunity to perform our religious obligations. When male sadhus have been granted separate zones, why not us? Don’t we have the right,” she questions.
The sadhvi claims that if she gets a go-ahead, she could call around 15,000 sadhvis to Nashik. “We are from Allahabad and my followers are awaiting my green signal to join me,” she adds. The 13 akhadas participating in the Fight for equality at Kumbh: Sadhvis too want separate akhadas like sadhus
Kumbh have been allotted designated spaces in Nashik and Trimbakeshwar. The akhadas erect their makeshift tents in earmarked areas and carry out their religious activities — langars, prayers, singing of devotional hymns and ‘educating’ pilgrims on the significance of Kumbh.
In the letter, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, the group of sadhvis has demanded 10 acres of land. It gives a detailed account on the requirements — 25 special rooms of 20×25 feet each, 50 ordinary rooms of 10×15 feet each and a pandal for ‘satsangh’ activities. They want attached bathrooms and toilets with all these rooms, along with electricity supply. The demands also include four rest rooms, 50 bathrooms, 25 taps and 50 chairs among other demands.
The sadhvis have also sought over 20 police constables for security when they bathe during the Shahi Saan. “Ten male and 10 female constables should be provided for the sadhvis and two guards should be deployed round-the-clock until the Kumbh ends. This is to ensure there are no untoward activity when the women sadhus take a dip,” adds Saraswati.
Mahant Gyaandas Maharaj, who head all 13 akhadas, says the sadhvis are followers of Shiva and Shaivites should make provision for the sadhvis. “As far as the demand for a special slot for Shahi Snan is concerned, it is uncalled for as one can take a holy dip at any time on that day,” he says.
Of the 13 akhadas, 10 belong to the Shaivites and three to Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu). While Trimbakeshwar accommodates the akhadas belonging to the followers of Lord Shiva, those in Nashik accommodate those of Vishnu.
When contacted, Nashik Collector Deependra Singh Khuswah said the sadhvis’ demand for separate space would be met. “We would accommodate them and give them a spot,” he said. However, when all 13 akhadas were allotted their spaces on Monday, the sadhvis were not communicated about place given to them. “While other akhadas have been allotted space, we have only been given verbal assurance. Nothing has come to us formally,” said Sadhvi Saraswati.