Amid a row over the entry of women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala temple, Union Minister Smriti Irani said on Friday that religious practices should be "respected" and anyone breaching them just to "make headlines" would do a great disservice to the country's diversity.
She said this during an event on Delhi University campus in response to a question from a student on Ms Irani's recent comments on the issue where she said that the right to pray did not mean the right to desecrate.
"I speak from personal experience. And, I said that publicly when I made that comment. I am married to a Zoroastrian, i.e., a Parsi, and by law, I am not allowed (to enter fire temple). And, by law means not by the Constitution but by laws that govern that particular religious practice," she said.
"Irrespective of how empowered I am, I am not allowed to enter a fire temple," Ms Irani told a gathering of students at a business conclave event at Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi.
The textile minister said her earlier comments on the issue was to tell that there are religious practices across different communities.
"I have not gone to the Supreme Court, to tell Supreme Court to give me the power to barge into a fire temple, because I respect the religious beliefs of the community that I am associated with."
"That community says, I will not have access to a fire temple. I have to stand on the road when my children are inside, praying," she said.
She was asked why should there be a blanket restriction on women's entry to the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala, over objections from certain quarters.
"It is incumbent upon you to respect that religious practice because the Constitution gives us rights to be free, but it also impinges upon us responsibilities towards fellow citizens," she said.
Ms Irani said there are "many temples" across the country, where "men are not allowed".
There are many churches, many mosques where restrictions are given for religious practices to be undertaken, she said.
"As individuals, it is our responsibility, given the diverse nature of communities in our country, to respect those tenets, and those practices."
"Do we breach practices only because we seek to make headlines or do we talk about only and only matters of faith. And, that is where my comments came from," she said.
"That if I breach somebody's religious practice only because my face will be in the newspaper, then I do great disservice to the diversity of India," Ms Irani said.
On September 28 last year, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, lifted the ban on entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.
Amid protests against the Supreme Court order opening the temple to women of all ages, Ms Irani had in October said that the right to pray did not mean the right to desecrate.
"I am nobody to speak against the Supreme Court verdict as I am a serving cabinet minister. But just plain common sense is that would you carry a napkin seeped with menstrual blood and walk into a friend's house. You would not," she had said then, adding, "And would you think it is respectful to do the same when you walk into the house of god? That is the difference. I have the right to pray, but no right to desecrate. That is the difference that we need to recognise and respect."
Besides, the minister was asked about the allegation that the BJP-led government hid important unemployment statistics which purportedly led to resignation of key people in the National Statistical Commission.
"I am happy that you asked this question because it gives me a sense of the distortion that is being done among people with regards to...fake news," Ms Irani said in response.
The minister referred to initiatives such as the Rs 6,000-crore package to apparel manufacturers, 1.3 crore homes built by the present government, 1.7 crore capital assets built across the country by the present government through MNREGA and plan of building 1 lakh wellness centres across the country to counter the lack of job creation narrative.
"If you look at the figures, they speak for themselves...," Ms Irani said.
She claimed that before the present BJP-led government assumed, rural job guarantee scheme MNREGA was used so that doles could be given out and no capital assets could be built for the country.
"We insisted that you build capital assets and as compared to previous government where only 20 lakh such assets were made we ensured that 1.7 crore capital assets are built by those very fellow citizens who were part of a pre-existing opportunity," said the minister.
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