The shrine that opened on October 17 – first time after the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict – closed yesterday amid massive protests without a single woman entering the premises.

Amid the ongoing protests over women’s entry in Sabarimala Temple, Union Minister Smriti Irani has said that while everyone has “the right to pray, but not to desecrate.”

“It is plain common sense. Would you take sanitary napkins soaked in menstrual blood into a friend’s home? You will not. And do you think it is respectful to do the same thing when you walk into the house of God? So that is the difference. That is my personal opinion,” Irani said at the Young Thinkers’ Conference organised by the British Deputy High Commission and the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai on Tuesday. She also added that as cabinet minister she cannot openly comment on the Supreme Court’s verdict that allowed women of all ages inside the Sabarimala premises.

Responding to a question from a participant about the protests at the base camps of the temple, Irani drew parallels with the example of her own multi-faith family. “I am a Hindu married to a Parsi. I have ensured that my two children practice Zoroastrianism. Both of them have done their Navjote. When I took my new-born son to a fire temple in Andheri, I had to give him at the temple gate to my husband because I was shooed away and told ‘yaha mat khade raho‘,” she said. Irani added that as she is not allowed to accompany her husband and children inside fire temples, she either stands on the road or waits in the car.

The shrine that opened on October 17 – first time after the Supreme Court lifted age restrictions on entry of women —  closed on October 22 amid massive protests without a single woman of the previously banned age entering the premises. More than a dozen women in the 10-50 age groups were stopped by protesters whenever they attempted to visit the temple.

Before the apex court’s judgment on Sabarimala, the women in the menstruating age were allowed till the base camp near Pamba river, while others continued the 5-km trek upwards. Considering menstruating women as “impure,” many opposing the judgment argue that the ban is essential to the rites for Lord Ayyappa, considered eternally celibate. They also argue that the journey to the shrine is tough for women to undertake. The verdict evoked a mixed political reaction as well. While the BJP and Kerala Congress unit opposed women’s entry in the shrine, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government said it would follow the apex court’s order. The review petitions will be heard on November 13.

In answer to another question about whether the BJP would push religion over development as its agenda in next year’s general elections, Irani replied, “I do not support populist rhetoric, but if there is an implementation of schemes that most of our population can benefit from, it should not be tagged as or sidelined or for that matter in any way demonised because it helps those who could not help themselves.”

Irani also claimed that the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana had enabled 5.5 crores to receive clean cooking fuel and move away from cutting firewood. “Which Prime Minister in the history of independent India after winning a historic mandate in the first year in office goes and tells people that those who are rich and can afford not to take subsidy should cease to take that subsidy so that money can be reallocated for clean fuel for poor women?” she said. Responding to another question, she denied accusations that the BJP government that taken only populist decisions in its four years in power, claiming instead that PM Narendra Modi had taken “difficult but essential” decisions like GST and the insolvency code.

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