Rabindra Sarobar, a sprawling 75 acre water body at the heart of south Kolkata is the source of fresh air for hundreds of morning walkers. It is also a shelter for thousands of migratory birds in winter. The Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority is the custodian of this beautiful lake and the enforcing authority is the Rabindra Sarobar Police Station.
On the occasion of this year’s Chhat Puja on November 13, streams of devotees congregated on the banks of this lake for religious offerings. The occasion was a largely polluting affair and affected the ecological balance of this lake and its surroundings. According to sources, such congregations are prohibited on the banks of this lake by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act, 2010. The authorities were aware of this order but did nothing to enforce these environmental guidelines which are recorded under the NGT Act of 2010. Instead, the authorities extended their support to the devotees. This was carried out in spite of NGT’s strong rejection of the plea to reconsider the ban before the occasion. Religious practices should not cause damage to society or ecology. This year round, women devotees offered their puja in baskets laden with fruits and bunch of bananas in the lake water before taking a dip as the authorities turned a blind eye.
These practices are not uncommon in India. The Supreme Court, on September 28, 2018 interpreted that the limited restriction on the entry of women of the notified age group at Sabarimala Temple in Kerala does not fall within the purview of the Indian constitution. According to the latest judgment of the Supreme Court, every woman irrespective of their age can henceforth enter the shrine. But the temple authorities are yet to follow this verdict. The former Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra has gone on record stating, “The irony that is nurtured by the society is to impose a rule, however unjustified, and proffer explanation or justification to substantiate the substratum of the said rule. Mankind, since time immemorial, has been searching for explanation or justification to substantiate a point of view that hurts humanity. The theoretical human values remain on paper. Historically, women have been treated with inequality and that is why, many have fought for their rights.” The Sabarimala custom of excluding women in their menstruating years had been allowed by Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Act, 1965. The Supreme Court has not only watered down this clause but has also erased the gender discrimination that was being practiced. But the authorities are yet to implement these directives from the apex court.