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Faith and feminism in the days of power, arrogance and stupidity


Welcome to a land where demi-gods are feared more than gods.

Two events are playing out in India. One is the controversy about the Shani temple in Shingnapur (Maharashtra) and the other is about The Energy Research Institute (TERI) in Delhi and its head Rajendra Pachauri. Both involve women and both speak to faith. In the case of the temple, faith has led to a practice, which supposedly excludes women, but there is a discussion in the public domain about whether or not this is the case. Hindu gods understand the art of negotiations – just look at the number of ways we can connect. The other is a fortress where all discussions and enquiry are being stifled bringing down with it people’s faith in human beings. One is about god, the other is about a self-appointed one. In the presence of god, we shout. In the presence of demagogues, we quiver in silence.

Both issues have turned ugly showing the depths to which human beings can sink. Viewed together, they are stories of power, stupidity, arrogance and decadence, pre-requisites that set people and societies on a destructive course.

Let us look at the demagogues and their factotums first as they are hiding behind fortresses we in India fear beyond imagination. The articles of faith in this fortress are power, money, sex, access and politics. This is what protects former founding-editor of Tehelka Tarun Tejpal who is facing charges of sexual harassment. This is also what prevents the Director General of TERI Rajendra Pachauri, accused of sexually harassing an employee, from being brought to justice.  An internal TERI report has underscored the complainant’s case – she was right. There is also a case making its way in the Delhi High Court and news reports say another employee – a male – is going to court citing pressure on him to protect Pachauri.

Under normal circumstances, Pachauri should not be back in the organisation till the issue is settled in court to the satisfaction of the lady concerned. Under normal circumstances, women and men who hold senior positions in the organisation should be speaking out against the injustice and the ugly mixture of power politics and sexual harassment. But Tejpal and Pachauri, their patrons and followers do not work in normal circumstances – they are the cause, they are the circumstance, they are the conclusion. Invisible fortresses including feminists protect them. That is what happened in Tehelka and that is what is happening in TERI. The men will most likely get away, aided by women.

In the home of Lord Shani in Shingapur, there is more space for conversation. The group of women who sought equality in worship – and rightly so – will get a patient hearing, empathy, space and hopefully a just solution. The ugly spectacle in Shingnapur yesterday will be replaced by dialogue and discussion – their voices have been heard and men and women of learning have offered their assistance to find a way forward. Similar conversation included some very agitated ones are taking place over women visiting Sabarimala. There is room for all in a place of genuine faith and worship – destroying faith because of a practice is what stupidity does. Destroys everything. Pachauri has effectively destroyed TERI’s reputation.

Practices including religious ones form over time as much in homes as in society. Under normal circumstances, women and men seeking justice and gender justice should be breaking down fortresses like TERI where mere mortals live, in glass houses where money and power are conspicuously worshipped. Women who are scaling the barricades of the Shani temple to pray to god are less enthusiastic about systematically supporting women who have to deal with the sexual predators who hold important offices in India. You cannot be a little feminist or a part-time feminist. It is like faith. Either you are among the believers or you are not. If we want people to take us seriously, we have to expose and replace every form of injustice towards women with equal force and dignity. If we don’t do that, we are accomplices in a world that celebrates injustice. Take a call privately – how far are you willing to go beyond a television studio to defend women’s issues? If you are not sure, think it through while doing what you can within your means – intellectual, financial and emotional. In the meantime, please do not dirty and confuse issues in the public domain where some very serious discussions are underway.

Anyone knows a god who makes deals?

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