As our beloved nation is slowly and steadily embracing modernity and moving towards unprecedented technological advancement, bringing onto itself, worldwide name and fame, yet, there exist certain practices, which in the name of tradition are inhibiting its progressive flight and bringing it only regressive filth and shame.
One such practice is the restricted entry of women in temples and dargahs in certain pockets of India.
In the last couple of months, a nationwide stir was caused by a statement made by the chief of the Travancore Devaswom Board, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, the nodal administrative authority of the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, that a machine should be invented to check whether or not a woman is menstruating and only then would she be allowed to enter the temple premises.
For those who are laughing it off as a loose and a baseless statement, it would be prudent to know that this famous Hindu temple of South India bars women in the age group 10-50 years, that is after menarche and before menopause, from entering its precincts.
While some people are of the opinion that the ‘impure’ females might defile the temple by their presence, the others say that women are not allowed because Lord Ayyappa, the deity of the temple, is considered a celibate and that menstruating women would contaminate the Brahmachari yogi.
What is antagonising is that such a ban has been even defended by the temple authorities on the ludicrous pretext of women’s safety. In the (disturbing) words of Prayar Gopalakrishnan,
“When women cannot walk on the streets safely, why should they embark on a difficult pilgrimage and want to come to a temple?”
The furore over these derogatory and misogynistic statements by the Sabarimala priest soon snowballed into protests against similar sanctions observed in the Shani Shignapur Temple in Ahmednagar near Pune and Haji Ali Dargah, off the coast of Mumbai, which prohibits women from entering the sanctum sanctorum or the place where the main shrine is located.
What is ironical is that even the Kamakhya Devi Temple in West Guwahati in Assam, which is the temple of the bleeding Goddess — it has no sculptures to worship, what is placed in the temple is the vagina or yoni of Kamakhya — also prohibits menstruating women from entering its premises.
So while worship of the bleeding Goddess is sacred, worship by the bleeding woman is sacrilege!
Whatever be the manner, in which the authorities phrase and fabricate this dictum, one cannot shed light on the fact that the raison d’etre for such a prohibition is the age old notion of impurity associated with menstruation.
Since times bygone, plethora of myths and taboos have been associated with ‘that time of the month’, whereby young girls and women were prohibited from entering the kitchen and doing household chores; were strictly barred from entering temples or Pooja rooms and even asked to refrain from touching the pickle, lest it became rotten.
In certain places, they were even asked to leave the main house and retire to an outhouse or the verandah for that period.
While these prescriptions were thought to be prevalent in the past and considered largely redundant in the present, these existing restrictions only reinforce the mental makeup of a male chauvinistic society using a process as natural and biological as menstruation to discriminate against women, in the guise of religion.
The Sabarimala incident is reminiscent of the discomfort our society suffers with the menstrual blood.
Right from packaging sanitary tissues in a black polyethene by the pharmacist, to the use of blue ink by television commercials to show the absorbed blood on the pad, to the sly giggles by the class boys at spotting a stained skirt in the school assembly, to the branding of a dominant player in the sanitary tissue market as ‘Whisper’, one can only imagine the stigma and shame our society associates with ‘periods’.
A private affair which women must bear alone.
However, an important question that emerges out of this controversy is that can such a ban be allowed to sustain?
A bone of contention here is the contesting provisions of the Indian Constitution that govern the Fundamental Right to Equality and that of Religious Freedom.
So should this practice be allowed to continue under the immunity it receives in the guise of the essential practices doctrine as provided by the Right to Religious Freedom granted under Article 25 and 26? Or, should it be out-rightly scrapped as it takes away from women, her inalienable right to equality and against discrimination enshrined in Article 14 and 15?
In the previous month, as a response to the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Indian Young Lawyers Association (IYLA), seeking non-discriminatory entry for all women even those in the reproductive age group in the Sabarimala Temple, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Deepak Misra questioned the basis for such a ban.
“In the Vedas, Upanishads or scriptures there is no discrimination between men and women. This has cropped up historically,” the court said.
So why should Sabarimala discriminate?
In order to strike a constitutional balance between these conflicting rights, and to also hear the defendant’s side of the story, the court has given to the temple board, six weeks’ time to respond and give details to the Court as to when did the discrimination commence at the temple, citing historical reasons.
It is worth noting here, how the then President of the Travancore Devaswom Board, had hinted at possible changes when similar demands for women’s entry came up in the early 90s by saying,
“I respect all the temple conventions but, personally, I think a change is inevitable. Once, the lower caste people were denied entry into the temples. The ban on women may also change.”
While the priests and the temple board are still in the defensive mode, this incident has sparked a heated debate and has started an onslaught of online campaigns like #HappyToBleed and #TouchThePickle, stressing the need to alleviate the stigma associated with menstruation and encouraging women to abandon ‘whisper’ in favour of being vocal about it.
This article was first published at: http://www.candidmedia.in/women-not-allowed-analysing-sabarimala-incident/#ixzz41ojxWxy3