HaridwarWomen from priests’ families are demanding that they be allowed to vote in the elections to the Ganga Sabha, an organisation that manages religious affairs and rituals at Brahmakund and Har-Ki-Pauri Ganga ghats in Haridwar.With the Ganga Sabha elections scheduled for December this year, a group of women from teerth purohit (priest) families has started a drive for voting rights, so that they can play a role in the organisation’s affairs.“When women are given the right to vote in parliamentary, assembly, civic and panchayat elections, why are we being denied the right in Ganga Sabha polls? Why are male members of Ganga Sabha hesitant to give us voting rights?” asked Lata Sharma from a teerth purohit family. “Giving women the right to vote and get elected to the Ganga Sabha will send a good message.” Since 1916 when Pt Madan Mohan Malviya founded the Ganga Sabha, the functioning of the organisation had been an all-male affair. All the decisions are taken by a 782-member, all-men Pradhan Sabha of the organisation. More than 2500 teerth purohits perform religious rituals in Haridwar.Ahead of its meeting on July 11, the Pradhan Sabha is seized of a debate on providing voting right to all male members of teerth purohit families through Maithi Sabha, a secondary body. Till now one person is nominated by a teerth purohit family for Pradhan Sabha. A section of the Ganga Sabha is proposing an amendment in the constitution to give voting rights to all male members of the purohit families. The Ganga Sabha is divided on this issue -- Ganga Sabha president Purushottam Sharma Gandhivadi is against any change in the system, but general secretary Ram Kumar Mishra is open to it. If the Ganga Sabha constitution is amended to provide voting right to all eligible youths, then the demand of the women for voting should be considered, said teerth purohit Anshul Shrikunj. “When women are being given due representation in all fields, then why will Ganga Sabha be averse to it? It will give a good message to the world that women have a right or say in the affairs of Ganga Sabha, which manages crores of pilgrims every year.” General secretary Mishra said, “We are not averse to voting rights for women, but no official communiqué has been made from their side. Besides, such important decisions can only be taken after presenting them before the principal body of Ganga Sabha.” Opposing it, Ganga Sabha member and teerth purohit Avikshit Raman said, “There is no mention of women voting rights in the Ganga Sabha constitution, so it’s irrelevant.” He said, “Members of Ganga Sabha are from teerth-purohit-panda community who performs religious rituals and rites. How come we grant voting right to women who either are housewives or doing some jobs. It’s a tradition which has been going on for past 100 years.” Senior Congress leader Poonam Bhagat is mobilising women to pressure the Ganga Sabha to give them voting rights.“First voting right should be given and later a post in the executive body be reserved for women, so that a new chapter is written in Ganga Sabha history,” Bhagat said. “We are getting support from several teerth purohits and their female family members. Women representatives will bring remarkable change in working of the body.”Senior teerth purohit Pt Krishan Pathak has warned of contesting for the Ganga Sabha president post if women are not given right to vote in Pradhan Sabha. In the past, women, social activists and Ganga activists had demanded that women be given say in Ganga Sabha management and elections, but a majority of male members and office-bearers had turned it down.