Yoga guru Ramdev on Monday came out in support of women activists seeking to break gender bias and enter the sanctum sanctorum of Shani temple in Maharashtra, saying there should not be any discrimination against women in any religion.
"There should not be any discrimination against any woman in any religion. This is against the spirit. This is wrong," he said.
He was responding to a question on campaign by Ranaragini Bhumata Brigade whose plan to offer prayers at the sacred platform in Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra was foiled on Republic day.
The activists, who tried to head to the popular temple defying prohibitory orders to worship the deity, were detained by police for a few hours and released in the evening.
The activists have got support from various quarters, including activists and rights groups from across the country.
Last week, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also backed the campaign and said the movement is justified as there is no scriptural sanction for discriminating against female devotees.
"Women are justified (in seeking to enter the sacred sanctum of the temple) as there was no sanction to gender discrimination in our scriptures.
"If men can enter, women too can...different temples follow different rules, but if men can enter a place, (of worship) women can also do so. There is no scriptural sanction for any gender discrimination," he said.
"Many people are not even aware of such a thing so we need to educate our people that women and men have equal rights. A few years back women were not allowed to chant 'Gayatri mantra' but today women are learning Vedas (scriptures) and becoming priests in Pune," Sri Sri said.
"Awareness (on gender equality) has to be created, scriptures have to be understood properly. It is the work of religious and spiritual leaders to make people understand.
Though they may be following some traditions, it has no scriptural injunction," he said.
"In some ways this is good that people are taking a stand, in another way we need to bridge the gap. It should not become just an ego issue and people hold on to their stands."
The founder of Art of Living, an educational and humanitarian movement, said religious leaders should intervene in such issues.
"This can be resolved without much friction if the religious people take a pro-active role... I am with them (the women). They want to claim their right to worship.
"The other side is, they fear if they do something which has not been done for centuries, may be some bad thing will happen. This sort of psychological fear or concern needs to be addressed.
"Shani bhagwan won't be angry at you for allowing women. Shani bhagwan will be very happy for women coming inside and offering prayers," said the popular religious guru, who has been this year chosen for Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian award.
In a tweet last week, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also voiced his support for the women activists, stating,
PTs :We must support women's demand for equal rights to men's for temple entry. Any Shastra sourced discrimination is amendable. Commies no!â€” Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) January 27, 2016
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who also met the women activists, favoured a dialogue between authorities of Shani Shingnapur temple and activists to find a way out over the ban on entry of female devotees into the inner sanctum of the shrine.
The Congress also backed the agitation. "I commend the move of one of the womenâ€™s organisations of Maharashtra asserting their right of worship at Shani Shingnapur. Women have got equal rights in the field of religion and philosophy in our country for centuries. Doors of knowledge and religion should be open to everyone without any discrimination,â€ť Janardan Dwivedi, General Secretary, Congress, said.