Trikal Bhavanta, founder of the Pari Akhara, led a powerful protest at the Kumbh Mela shedding light on the lack of gender equality in Hinduism.

The Kumbh Mela is the largest and most sacred of all Hindu festivals. Held at various locations according to a rotational basis and astrological signs, the current festival is taking place in Ujjain. The event draws crowds of thousands of devout Hindus eager to wash of their sins in the Shipra river. Trikal Bhavanta, founder of the Pari Akhara, and her group were among these people except they were denied the right to take the holy waters because they were women.

On Tuesday, Bhavanta seated herself in a deep grave dug by her Akhara’s Saadhvis, while followers threw petals and dirt onto her. This continued until police and local officials intervened and ended the protest. Previously she held a hunger strike for being denied the right to set up an Akhara but ended the strike when the Chief Minister assured her otherwise. However, despite assurances, she faced the same gender discriminatory issues at the Kumbh. India has 13 widely recognised “Akharas” or religious groups, completely dominated by males, many who dispute the legitimacy of Trikal’s all female Akhara. Bhavanta formed her Akhara back in 2000 and is considered the first such all-female group. The issue of gender discrimination has become an increasingly relevant issue even at several temples around India where women are denied entry. Ironically, history was also created at the same festival when a Kinnar (Transgender) Akhara was set up for the first time.

The fact that several powerful Hindu deities are female, not allowing women to take part in religious activities is outright hypocritical. There has been a long standing tradition of treating women as secondary citizens and sometimes even less than human and a lot of this can be traced back to misogynistic “Holy Men” and male religious leaders who somehow want to monopolize God. It is time that such groups are not considered special or “Holy” as their actions definitely do not befit that title.