I am afraid the women of our country are getting it wrong. Temple entry has nothing to do with the right to pray. Equality with men, in all respects other than limited biological functions like childbirth, is a fundamental right of all women. There is no question that subjecting women to discrimination is a crime and a shame. It deserves to be denounced.
But equating the “right to pray” with temple entry is a different matter altogether. It is like equating entry, say, into somebody’s bedroom with the right to breathe — for air is also present in bedrooms.
The right to pray cannot be separated from two basic questions: Who are we praying to? What does it mean to pray? If it is to god that we are praying, it does not have to be done in a temple. Temple, kitchen and marketplace are all alike in respect of god’s presence. Men may be irrational enough to believe that god lives in only their temples and that they have a monopoly over such a god. That is why they are, quite rightly, worried about women entering their temples. They are right to worry that if women are allowed into these structures of make-believe, serious harm could come to their gods. The reason is that women are feared to be more rational. Rational creatures will know only too soon that omnipresent god does not stay confined to man-made temples.
If it is to the genuine god that we wish to pray, do we really have to go to a temple, church, mosque or gurdwara? Do we have to go to Bethlehem or Mecca to drink water or brush our teeth? Can’t these be done anywhere? Why is praying any different? No human being, male or female, with a modicum of commonsense should pray to a god who is imprisoned in a man-made structure. A god who is man’s slave is a poor, pathetic god indeed.
Now, what is prayer or worship? All religions are utterly corrupted by the domination of man. Religions, as feminists quite rightly lament, are patriarchal. But religion of this kind is the ghost of a religion, and not its true form. Guru Nanak did not have to pray in a temple. Prophet Muhammad was not enlightened in a temple, but on a mountain. The purpose of prayer is to attain the strength to lead a godly life. It is an insult to women to assume that they can receive it only from manmade temples with which god has nothing to do. Women should know that not only they but god is also not allowed in these temples and mosques.
Being denied entry into certain temples or mosques, therefore, is not a spiritual issue. It is only a legal issue. That so-called “places of worship” are man-dominated and seats of discrimination must open their eyes to the fact that these are places where god is routinely mocked. Practising discrimination in the name of god is the worst form of irreligion. A place where this is done has nothing to do with god or spirituality. Why do you want to waste your time and money there? I am sure that the women in this country have better sense than that.
The core issue today is not temple entry for women. It is the liberation of god from the pious prisons we have created for the divine. It is because god is confined to these quaint and funny places that the fear of god does not operate elsewhere. That is the curse of our country. If only we recognised the omnipresent god who is with us in our workplaces, in our relationships, in our marketplaces, this country would have been free from corruption, caste violence and systemic oppression. By creating man-dominated places of worship, we confine god to convenient spots and claim the rest of the country to practise corruption, injustice, violence and oppression.
Why did Gandhi give up on temples? Was it not because of his spiritual enlightenment? Which embodiment of spiritual light has ever associated temples or mosques with god? Who can claim that he has become a better human being because of a temple? It is a shame that even in the 21st century, we have not taken leave of superstition and obscurantism. The time has come for us to allow the light of reason into our religious life. God is light, not darkness.
The writer is a Vedic scholar and social activist