Patrakar types

Published on May 1st, 2015


Swaminarayan Temple authorities always treat women this way

Yogi auditorium next to Dadar’s Swaminarayan Temple always asks women to sit a few rows behind men. A personal account.
by Vrushali Lad |

I learnt with dismay, but not with surprise, of a woman journalist being asked to vacate her front row seat at the auditorium adjoining the Swaminarayan Temple at Dadar. She was there as an invited mediaperson to cover a religious function to honour Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in the wake of the beef ban in the State.

I know the journalist for years now, and first learnt of the incident on her Twitter feed. She was understandably furious over being asked to sit ‘three rows behind’ – women are not allowed to sit in these rows and must take a seat in the rows behind. After arguing with the authorities and even speaking about it to a senior BJP leader, she finally left the auditorium.

The same thing happened a couple of years ago.

An awards function to honour Gujarati achievers

It was at the same venue a couple of years ago that I first learnt of this practice. My husband, a Gujarati by birth, was to be awarded for his services to journalism. He was part of a group of other Gujarati awardees from various fields – entertainment, education, law, civil rights. I had accompanied my husband and some of our family members to the event, and I remember looking through the invite which had pictures of the other awardees. Only one of them was a woman – a young pilot with a commercial airline, possibly the first from the community.

When we got there, the function had already started but the auditorium was not full. When we made our way to the front seats, I was promptly stopped by two young men, who told me to sit anywhere provided it was 10 rows away from the stage. Perplexed, I assumed that the front rows were reserved for families of the organisers, which normally happens. We sat behind and awaited the prize distribution.

At one point, all the awardees were asked to take their seats on the stage, and my husband joined the others. But there was no sign of the woman pilot. I wondered if she was going to show up at all, then decided she must be at work and somebody else would take her award for her.

Then the chief guests for the awards function, two sadhu brahmachari types, were brought on the stage and a lot of feet-touching and speech-making followed. Finally, the awardees’ names began to be called out. When the pilot’s name was announced, there was a flurry of activity at the far end of one of the middle rows of the auditorium – everyone kept craning their necks and looking at a smiling woman who had just stood up. With horror, I saw that it was the woman pilot.

A little questioning finally helped me understand – the woman had not been allowed to take her place on the stage with the other male awardees, had not been allowed to sit in any seat in the first 10 rows, and what was worse, she was given her award at her seat in the audience by two other men from the organising committee, not by the sadhu chief guests. All of this because ‘women cannot be in physical proximity of a brahmachari‘.

On the stage, I saw my husband looking mutinous. When his name was called, he took his award and left without acknowledging the chief guests. Later he kicked himself for accepting the award in the first place.

I just looked across at the woman pilot – the young achiever for whom the sky was literally not the limit, was completely okay with being treated this way by a bunch of religious nobodies who, in this day and age, hold on to some archaic views on women in the guise of religious sanctity. What would compel an independent, successful woman to accept an award at a venue that routinely makes women sit in the back rows because ‘that is the rule here’? Didn’t she feel the slightest humiliation at being the only one to not be seated on stage with her contemporaries, on account of her gender?

I still wonder at her. And I’m never going back to that auditorium again.

What do you think of yesterday’s incident with the woman journalist at the CM’s function? Tell us in the comments section below.

(Pictures courtesy Image is a file picture)

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8 Responses to Swaminarayan Temple authorities always treat women this way

  1. Ravi Shet says:

    It’s a biased behaviour; can they keep idols of Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati behind the idols of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva?

  2. Meher says:

    I can’t believe such things are happening in these modern times. These may have been practised before but surely we must change with the times!! Nobody should be allowed to discriminate like this?

  3. phal says:

    Thats pretty much all swaminarayan temples all over the world including the states and bombay and ahmedabad etc. Apparently it is the belief of the sect that women are impure, and lead to impure thoughts etc, and must be kept outside of the sanctum sanctorum (and then by extension the inner circles of everywhere else). I was once in Ahmedabad for a heritage walk that started at the swaminarayan temple. The head priests wife came out, and we knew that because she was completely surrounded and inside a chhatri with these weird drapes hanging off it, so that NO ONE would see the head priests wife because omg what if they have impure thoughts about her? It’s a very weird situation, and it pisses me off to no end. When I visited the bhuj one I snuck into the sanctum and they wanted to call the cops.

  4. Ritika Bhandari Parekh says:

    Really appalling behaviour!! They allow other sects to also use their auditoriums. I have been to one such function, but the rule was not there. I think people should boycott it for such discrimination.

    • Deven Patel says:

      It’s not the belief that women are impure .
      But there is something else which I can’t explain now.
      Also, 70% of Volunteers in BAPS are women. Thousands of them has completed their education from well known Institutes and Universities like Harvard, IIT’S and etc.
      You can find the answers in “Swaminarayan Hinduism” a book published by Oxford University Press.

  5. Ghanshyam Brahmbhatt says:

    I don’t know whether Ms. Vrushali Lad is a journalist or a columnist but the article written over here shows how an immature empathy, self-centric motives and non-biased views are taken to portray only one side of an organisation.
    Tell me how good and vast coverage the media gives when it is found that certain monk is caught indulging in wrong activities related to female. They would report every bit of information as possible to malign the monk and organisation.
    On the other hand, if an organisation is having such code of conducts that their monks follow complete rules of celibacy then why don’t we appreciate the fact that such type of holy people do exist.
    The problem of our country is every Indian is a philosopher and they want to preach their ideology. The notable author of column took pains to ask somebody about why the women are made to sit back then why didn’t she bother to ask that lady pilot if she felt discriminated???
    I don’t belong to that organisation but on my enquiry, I found from my friends of that organisation that though the monks follow such type of celibacy rules, the number of women devotees is more than male devotees. Have they felt any discrimination, they should have left the organisation.
    If you will dig further into the organisation you will find that how great good platform has been provided to women to grow themselves across all the dimensions of life.

    Please, don’t discriminate somebody by looking only one side of it.

    • Vrushali replies: Thank you for your point of view.

      Discrimination is discrimination, whether it comes from a ‘holy’ monk who practices celibacy or an ‘unholy’ person like you or me. Let us not attribute wrong acts to religion and celibacy – which God and religion says that gender inequality are correct? What kind of dichotomy is this that we deign to honour women achievers but it is against our supposed celibacy to allow the same women to share a platform with us? How is such a such a ‘code of conduct’ even permissible in one’s thoughts, let alone in action?

      Besides, the very fact that the woman pilot accepted her award despite the rumblings from the audience, proves your point about this organisation having more women devotees than men. The problem, Sir, is not just about men, but largely with women blindly accepting these behaviours, too. Accepting certain things by virtue of ‘code of conduct’ and ‘vows of celibacy’ does not right the wrong – it is still discrimination on the basis of gender, whether the organisation does a lot of social work or provides a good platform for women to grow. As long as such outdated notions exist, these platforms for growth are only token gestures.

      • Deven Patel says:

        I think you have a little misunderstanding.
        It’s not the discrimination but it’s the celebacy vow of sadhus in BAPS.
        Moreover, if it would be discrimination then UN would not have made special arrangement in World Millennium Summit for Sadhus Of BAPS.
        Also, there 55000 Social Workers in BAPS and 70% of them are women.
        So, it’s not discrimination it’s a “Niyam” given by Lord Swaminarayan.
        Not to insult women but to be in “Niyam”

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