Uttarakhand Minister of Women and Child Welfare Rekha Arya’s recent order directing the officials of her department and anganwadi workers to click a photograph while performing ‘jalabhishek‘ at Shiva temples on July 26 has triggered a row, with the Opposition accusing the ruling BJP of using religion to promote a government programme.
In her letter addressed to Secretary/Director (Women Empowerment and Child Development), Arya had announced a kanwar yatra while asking her officers and anganwadi workers to do the jalabhishek. “Under the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav part of the ambitious Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme, a kanwar yatra is to be started by the Women and Child Development department with a pledge of ‘mujhe bhi janm lene do, shiv ke maah me shakti ka sankalp (let me be born, pledge of shakti in the month of Shiva). To fulfill this pledge, all district officers/employees of the department, anganwadi, mini-anganwadi workers, and helpers will do jalabhishek at their nearest Shiva temples on Tuesday. With the jalabhishek, they will take forward this campaign and send photos to department e-mail IDs and officer WhatsApp groups,” Arya said in the letter.
As the issue snowballed into a controversy, Arya said the jalabhishek-photograph order is not mandatory and that her letter never threatened action against those not following it.
“In the letter I asked the officials to do jalabhishek, but did not say that we will act against them if they don’t,” she said. Referring to the Congress, she added, “The party which is raising the issue has never done anything for our daughters or sought to convey a good message to society.”
Talking to The Indian Express, Congress state president Karan Mahara said, “The government never issues such orders for any particular religion. The minister doesn’t realise that there are several communities in the Sanatan Dharma that do not allow women to do jalabhishek of Shiva. In some castes, there are some specific days on which jalabhishek is not allowed. This is also a country that respects all religions. There must be people of other religions too and they cannot be expected to go to a temple and do jalabhishek Therefore, the order asking for jalabhishek and for photos of it to be sent is very strange. Today she says no one is being forced to do the jalabhishek. If that is the case, why is the minister asking for photos? This shows the order was compulsory.”
Arya, the only woman minister in the Uttarakhand Cabinet led by Pushkar Singh Dhami, is a two-time MLA from Someshwar constituency. She was among the nine Congress MLAs who left the party in 2016 to join the BJP, leading to the collapse of the Harish Rawat government. Arya had served as a minister in the previous Uttarakhand Cabinet too.
In the present Cabinet, Arya holds the portfolios of Women Empowerment and Child Development, Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, along with Sports and Youth Welfare. Born in Almora district of the state, Arya, 42, holds a postgraduate degree.
Arya was recently involved in a similar controversy after a letter issued by her department, asking officials and employees to attend a private religious function she was organising in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, went viral on social media.
Following the letter, Congress’s Mahara had written to CM Dhami, requesting him to put a stop to such orders. Arya had then shot back, saying it was just an invitation and that she wasn’t putting a gun to anyone’s head.
Last month, Arya was also involved in a turf war with a secretary of her Food and Civil Supplies Department. She had objected to the secretary, Sachin Kurve, transferring six District Supplies Officers (DSO) and sending one of them on compulsory leave, saying the transfers were done without consulting her. Karve was later moved out to the tourism department.
Asked about BJP’s stand on the latest controversy involving Arya, party spokesperson Shadab Shams said the minister has already issued a clarification on her letter and that the party does not feel the need to add more.