The five women whose petition has shaken up the nation

Varanasi, May 21 (IANS): The five women who caused an upheaval in the country by filing a petition seeking permission to offer prayers at the Shringar Gauri shrine in the Gyanvapi mosque complex here are neither friends, nor part of one group.

Of the five petitioners, one is based in Delhi while four belong to Varanasi. The closest they came to know of each other is a chance meeting at a 'satsang'.

While Laxmi Devi, Sita Sahu, Manju Vyas and Rekha Pathak live in Varanasi and have been present at every hearing of the case which began in August 2021, the fifth and the main petitioner, Rakhi Singh, lives in Delhi and has not been to court.

Rakhi Singh's interest in religion seems to originate from her links to the 'Vishwa Vedic Sanathan Sangh'.

Rakhi, 35, is a founder member of the outfit, which claims to have done 'coordination' for the petition. Her uncle, Jitendra Singh Bishen, is the President of the Sangh.

According to Santosh Singh, the UP convenor of the Vishwa Vedic Sanathan Sangh, the outfit coordinated with four of the women and brought them together to file the Gyanvapi petition in August 2021.

"We are managing the whole case," he claimed.

The second petitioner is Laxmi Devi, 65, whose husband, Sohan Lal Arya, is a senior VHP office-bearer in Varanasi. Laxmi Devi is essentially a homemaker and lives in Varanasi's Mahmoorganj area.

An active player in this case, her husband claims it was he who "inspired and brought together the five women (petitioners)".

Arya, 71, is also the litigants' agent in the petition.

The VHP Varanasi Mahanagar vice-president and spokesperson since 1984, he said that the petitioners, including his wife, were chosen by him.

Arya, who claims to have been associated with the RSS since childhood, said that he filed his first petition in the Kashi Vishwanath-Gyanvapi matter in a Varanasi court in 1985.

"This time, I decided to put women in front as it is they who pray to Maa Shringar Gauri. I chose the four women as I needed some women to file the petition. I didn't have any other names, so I picked them," he said.

The Vishwa Vedic Sanathan Sangh was founded in 2018 "for the cause of Hindutva". The outfit has also filed cases over the status of Qutub Minar in a Delhi court as well as one regarding the Krishna Janmabhoomi in a Mathura court, which also involves dispute with a mosque.

Sita Sahu, another petitioner, however, has another story as to how they came together for the case.

"Four of us met at a satsang and decided to file the petition. We were contacted by Rakhi Singh saying she wanted to be a part of the petition, so we included her as well," she said.

Sita Sahu runs a small general store from her house in Chetganj area of Varanasi, just 2 km from the Gyanvapi complex.

While she has never been associated with any outfit or organisation, she said, "We are doing work for Hindu religion and filed the petition because we are not allowed to properly worship our Goddess at the temple."

Manju Vyas, 49, runs a beauty parlour from her house located 1.5 km from the Gyanvapi complex and is not a member or office-bearer of any outfit or organisation. Apart from her small business, she looks after her family. Her interest is to pray at the Shringar Gauri Sthal.

Rekha Pathak, 35, the fifth petitioner in the case, said she became a part of the petition for the cause of her Goddess.

"I felt bad that women who go to the temple for worship are not allowed past the barricading, so I became a part of the petition. The decision to file the petition was taken by us during a satsang of the temple because all of us worship the Goddess," she said.

It is on their petition that the Civil Judge (Senior Division), Varanasi, ordered a videographic inspection of the Gyanvapi mosque, inviting objections from the Muslim community.

"For us, nothing else matters except for offering prayers at Shringar Gauri Maa and we will not rest till we are given the permission," the petitioners said.

Interestingly, none of the five petitioners are aware of the legal or political implications that their petition is having on the nation.

"We are only concerned with worshipping at Shringar Gauri and nothing else matters to us," said Rekha Pathak.



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