Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani raised a Twitter storm on Tuesday with her statement that women everywhere have the right to pray, but not the right to desecrate.
Chipping in on the raging debate around women’s entry to the Sabarimala Temple, the Minister said this difference between right to pray and right to desecrate must be “recognised and respected.” She was speaking on the sidelines of a conference organised by the British High Commission and the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai.
“I have no right as a current serving Cabinet Minister to comment on the Supreme Court verdict, but it is plain common sense: Would you take a sanitary napkin soaked in menstrual blood and walk into a friend’s home? You would not. And would you think it is respectful to do the same when you walk into a house of God? That is the difference. I have a right to pray and I don’t have a right to desecrate, and this must be recognised and respected. That is my personal opinion,” the BJP leader said talking at the Young Thinkers’ Conference.
Ms. Irani explained that she had personally experienced this. As someone married to a Parsi and practising Zoroastrian faith, there were restrictions to praying at the city’s fire temples. “Since I have ensured both my children are practising Zoroastrians and have completed their Navjote, they can pray in a fire temple. But I have to personally stand on the road or sit in my car outside the temple. When I took my newborn son to a temple, I had to give him up my husband at the gate. I was shooed away and told not to stand there. But even then I understand, I have a right to pray but I don’t have a right to desecrate,” Ms. Irani said, when asked what was her opinion and the government’s on the Sabarimala judgement.
Clarifying that the Narendra Modi government has been the “most progressive” in the history of India on social issues, such as those related to the debates around Section 377 and Privacy, she said: “The government’s position has been clear... it will not interfere in this matter. This is the most progressive stand a government has ever taken in the history of this country.”
Backing Prime Minister Modi to deliver on his economic promises, Ms. Irani said the Prime Minister would not succumb to populist pressures, unlike the former Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. “The bold steps our prime minister has taken in implementing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Insolvency Code give no indication he is a populist leader. Like I said earlier, our government is here to serve even those who did not vote for us,” the Minister said in response to a question whether the party would use “religious polarisation” as a means to secure votes in the 2019 General Elections. “When this government constructs roads, it does not put up a board saying the path should lead to a Muslim or a Hindu’s house. When we give electricity connections, we do not announce it should light up only a Hindu or a Muslim home. So where is the question of party using religion as a plank?”
The Minister said any populist scheme from just the announcement perspective was a way to get votes. But if the policy was well studied or sketched out in an effort to empower people, it must be termed “smart economics.” Calling the Food Security Act of the UPA government a populist move, she said: “In a country of a billion-plus, according to the previous government’s own record, only 7 million tonnes of food was distributed in only 10 to 11 States... The same measure in our government was not only implemented across all States, but we distributed about 34 million tonnes of food grains.”
‘Used as a bait’
Later in the day, Ms. Irani tweeted her clarification on the comment saying her words were being used to launch a propaganda using her as a “bait”. “As far as those who jump the gun regarding women visiting a friend’s place with a sanitary napkin dipped in menstrual blood — I am yet to find a person who ‘takes’ a blood soaked napkin to ‘offer’ to any one let alone a friend. But what fascinates me, though does not surprise me, is that as a woman I am not free to have my own point of view. As long as I conform to the ‘liberal’ point of view I’m acceptable. How Liberal is that ?”
The Minister further added that as a practising Hindu married to a practising Zoroastrian she is not allowed to enter a fire temple to pray. “I respect that stand by the Zoroastrian community/priests and do not approach any court for a right to pray as a mother of 2 Zoroastrian children. Similarly Parsi or non Parsi menstruating women irrespective of age DO NOT go to a Fire Temple.These are 2 factual statements. Rest of the propaganda/agenda being launched using me as bait is well just that... bait.”