Tuesday September 25, 2018

Shani Shingnapur Temple puts an end to discrimination

a door opened to equanimity

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A group of women on Friday created history when they prayed at the well known Shani Shingnapur temple here by pouring oil on the five-feet tall idol of Lord Shanidev.

The development took place shortly after the Shani Shingnapur Temple Trust declared that women would be allowed to enter and pray at the open-to-sky platform from now on.

Trustee Shalini Lande pointed out that the Bombay High Court had ruled that there was no law to prevent women from entering any place of worship.

“Yes, we have taken this decision. We shall now finalise other details like how and when women can go and worship there,” Trust chairperson Anita Shetye told IANS.

For over four centuries, women have been barred from stepping onto the high platform on which stands a black stone — symbolising Lord Shanidev, the personification of planet Saturn.

From 2010, even men were barred from climbing onto the platform on grounds of safety. But on Friday, a few village youths barged through the steel barricades and offered prayers.

Bhumata Ranragini Brigade president Trupti Desai, several women activists, women from the Sonai village and neighbouring towns trooped to the temple too after and Trust decision.

They were allowed to enter and pray peacefully in the evening, breaking centuries old traditions.

An unidentified woman had unknowingly done the prayers in November last year, setting off a chain of events which finally culminated in a victory for gender equality on Friday.

Trupti Desai, who was one week ago prevented and assaulted while trying to climb on the temple steps, experienced a sea change when she offered prayers, oil abhishek and flowers on Friday amid cheers by a large number of people.

Friday’s decision was welcomed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

In January, the temple trust overturned another old practice and unanimously elected Anita Shetye as its first ever woman chairperson and another woman as a trustee.

On April 1, a division bench of Bombay High Court had ruled that under the Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, women could not be barred from any place of worship.

The court directed the state government to take pro-active steps to ensure compliance with the law, saying “it is the fundamental right of a woman and must be protected”.

The government said it was totally opposed to gender discriminaton.

A day after the verdict, a group of women were stopped from entering the temple complex.

The unique open temple has no walls or roof. A self-emerged (svayambhu) five-foot black stone stands on a platform and is worshipped as Lord Shanidev, in the centre of the small village.

Shani Shingnapur is known as the only village where houses do not have doors and locks, and yet it remains theft free.

Even the UCO Bank’s branch in the village does not have locks on its doors.

Belief has it that thieves cannot steal or burgle in the village which is protected by Lord Shani and misfortune would befall anyone who steals. IANS

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Afghan Orchestra Flourishes Despite Social Issues

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border.

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Afghanistan
Negin Khpolwak, leader of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, practices on a piano at Afghanistan's National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

The consequences of Afghanistan’s increasingly deadly war are weighing heaviest on the nation’s civilians, with women bearing the brunt of the violence. The Taliban banned music and girls education, and restricted outdoor activities of women when the group was controlling most of Afghanistan.

But violence and social pressures have not deterred members of the country’s nascent orchestra of mostly young girls from using music to “heal wounds” and promote women’s rights in the strictly conservative Muslim society.

The ensemble, known as Zohra, was founded in 2014 as part of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul, where suicide bombings lately have become routine.

Hope and music

Students and trainers are not losing hope and regularly come to the city’s only institute to rehearse and learn new lessons, says Ahmed Naser Sarmast, the director of ANIM and the founder of the orchestra. Zohra is the name of a music goddess in Persian literature, he explained.

The musicologist spoke to VOA while visiting neighboring Pakistan earlier this month with the young ensemble to perform in Islamabad as part of celebrations marking the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s Independence Day. Kabul’s embassy in Islamabad organized and arranged for the orchestra’s first visit to Pakistan.

Despite the many challenges in Afghanistan, Sarmast said, student enrollment has consistently grown and more parents are bringing their children to the institute to study music. Around 300 students are studying not only music at the institute but other subjects, including the Quran, he said.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, attend a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul. VOA

Advances for women

Negin Khpolwak, the orchestra’s first woman conductor, says Afghanistan has made significant advances in terms of promoting women’s rights in the past 17 years. She says there is a need to sustain the momentum irrespective of rising violence.

“We need to stand up to protect those gains and we need to open the doors for other Afghan girls,” Khpolwak said when asked whether deadly attacks around the country are reversing the gains women have made.

But violence alone is not the only challenge for women and girls, especially those who want to study music, she said.

“When you are going in the street with your instrument to the school and they are saying bad words to you and if you are giving a concert in public they are telling the bad words to you. But we are not caring about it,” Khpolwak said.

Afghanistan
Ahmad Naser Sarmast, head of Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, speaks to members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

Ethnic groups help each other

Sarmast says that girls and boys in the orchestra come from different Afghan ethnic groups and they help each other when needed.

“It’s hope for the future,” he said.

Ethnic rivalries have been a hallmark of hostilities in Afghanistan and continue to pose a challenge to efforts promoting peace and stability.

“I strongly believe without arts and culture there cannot be security and we are using the soft power of music to make a small contribution to bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan and at the same time using this beautiful, if I can call it a beautiful weapon, to transform our community,” the director said.

Some of the members of the Afghan orchestra were born and brought up in refugee camps in Pakistan, which still hosts around 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan families displaced by years of war, poverty, persecution and drought.

Afghanistan
Members of the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women, bring instruments to a class before a rehearsal at Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music, in Kabul, Afghanistan. VOA

“We are using the healing power of music to look after the wounds of the Afghan people as well as the Pakistani people. We are here with the message of peace, brotherhood and freedom,” Sarmast said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have experienced years of terrorist attacks, including massive casualties on both sides of their long shared border. Bilateral relations are marred by mistrust and suspicion.

Also Read: OrchKids- Bringing Jot to Underprivileged Kids Through Music

The countries blame each other for supporting terrorist attacks. Afghans allege that sanctuaries in Pakistan have enabled Taliban insurgents to sustain and expand their violent acts inside Afghanistan. Pakistan rejects the charges.

The Islamist insurgency controls or is attempting to control nearly half of Afghanistan. (VOA)