Indians decry Hindu leader’s temple rape comment

Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati says allowing women into temple in Maharashtra will lead to more rapes.

india temple
Last week, Maharashtra High Court struck down a 400-year-old ban on entry of women in Shani Shingnapur temple [AFP]

Hindu religious leader Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati has caused an outcry in India after saying that entry of women into the Shani temple in Maharashtra state will lead to more crimes such as rapes.

Commenting on the recent entry of women into a temple in western Maharashtra state, Shankaracharya, 94, said on Sunday that “women should not feel triumphant about visiting the sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra.

“They should stop all the drum beating about what they have done. Worshipping Shani will bring ill luck to them and give rise to crimes against them like rape,” he was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper on Sunday.

Women’s groups and activists decried the comment, describing the statement as patriarchal and against the dignity of women.

“Society is not going to tolerate this. Women will struggle against such mindset,” Jagmati Sangwan, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), told Al Jazeera by phone on Monday.

Last week, Maharashtra High Court struck down a 400-year-old ban on the entry of women into Shani Shingnapur temple on the ground that women cannot be discriminated on basis of their gender.

Patriarchal mindset

Many commentators on social media expressed outrage and mocked the Swami for his comments.

“Fundamentalist religious leaders feel that religious places are the domain of men,” Sangwan said from Indian capital, New Delhi.

“Not only religious places, patriarchal mindset in the society needs to be attacked, which believes that women are inferior and as a result cannot be allowed equal rights,” she said.

Rights groups have been fighting a similar ban on the entry of women to a famous Muslim shrine, Haji Ali Dargah, in Mumbai city.

The latest controversy comes days after Shankaracharya said that worshipping of an Indian guru known as Sai Baba has caused drought in Maharashtra state. The state’s Latur district is suffering an acute water crisis, triggering water riots in some places.

Calling for “strong action”, Sangwan said that “the statement is a disobedience to Maharashtra High Court as well as the Maharashtra State Assembly, which supported equal rights for women and their entry into temples”.

The AIDWA general secretary called for tough laws to safeguard dignity of women.

“We have actually submitted a memorandum to law ministry that people holding responsible positions, ie religious, social or political, should face action if they attack equality of women, their dignity and equal rights.”

Source: Al Jazeera