The more things change, the more they remain the same. A day after Muslim women entered the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai -- raising hopes that discriminatory practices against women would end in other places of worship --- the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple withdrew the order allowing women devotees to wear churidars or salwars to enter its precincts, following protests by Hindu organisations and devotees.
On Tuesday, the temple’s executive officer had changed the dress code, which stipulated that a woman has to wear a dhoti over churidar or any other garment to enter the temple, as per the direction from the court. The court was acting upon a petition filed by a woman devotee, Riya Raj.
The dress code at the temple was three pieces of unstitched cloth for men including the loin cloth and four pieces of unstitched cloth for women. Stitched cloth was prohibited inside the temple, but over the years, the practice changed and temple management had permitted that. Tradition calls for pure, decent and clean clothes inside the temple that helps retain its decorum and sanctity.
While staunch religious beliefs may be the overriding factor to support such nonsensical rules, there are also some who believe that the primary reason for continuing with such rules is commercial: The temple rents out unstitched dhotis to devotees; in fact, nothing is for free in the temple; changing any rule is not only a blow to ‘tradition’ but also to the coffers.
Several regressive practices abound in India’s temples: The Sabrimala temple prevents women in their reproductive years from entering the temple. In other places, non-Hindus are not allowed. Such rules go against the spirit of true Hindusim, which is an inclusive religion.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple authorities should not have caved in to a minority group of men who were protesting this change in the dress code. Reform has to come from within ideally as is happening in the Muslim community to some extent, at least from women. The local BJP’s support for the regressive dress code also goes against the efforts of the party’s national leaders, who have been focusing relentlessly on Muslim personal laws which discriminate against women, calling them “regressive”.