Time to shed regressive views and allow women’s entry into Sabarimala
Since political support is not forthcoming and religious bodies are administered by patriarchal entities, the courts and civil society are the only hope for women to get support in their drive for gender equalityeditorials Updated: Jan 09, 2017 08:47 IST
Tradition and customs seem to be among the most difficult barriers to breach when it comes to gender rights. A case in point is that of women’s entry into the famous Sabrimala shrine in a supposedly enlightened and fully literate Kerala. Now that Trupti Desai and her Bhumata brigade have announced their intention to enter the shrine to see Lord Ayyappa, the hackles of the temple’s governing body have been raised. It has said it will not allow this and the CPI(M) government in Kerala, which had earlier supported women’s rights in this matter, is significantly silent after having done a U-turn a little earlier on its progressive stand.
The opposition to women in their reproductive years entering the temple is based on the legend that the celibate deity would not tolerate this. The courts have been far more consistent than political parties in this, taking the position that tradition cannot take precedence over the Constitution and that discriminatory customs pose a danger to gender equality. A Bench headed by Justice Dipak Mishar had earlier asked, “Can a biological phenomenon be ground for discrimination?”
Those in favour of such regressive traditions feel that the courts or governments have no right to interfere in religious matters. But this is not good enough. Here is a case of women being discriminated against solely on the basis of gender and this has no place in the law.
With time and progress these outdated beliefs about the purity of women and barring widows from some temples should have been changed by forces from within the Hindu fold. These customs were framed in a different time and place and cannot be considered to be cast in stone.
It is true that the Travancore Devasom Board administers the temple but there is nothing in the law which says that they can overturn what is guaranteed in the Constitution in the name of upholding tradition. India, being a secular country, the state has to ensure that all its citizens can exercise their right to worship at a time and place of their choosing.
In the past, the Board has even come up with the ridiculous proposition that women would be allowed to enter if they underwent a scan to prove that they were not menstruating. This violates all the rights of a woman including that of the right to privacy.
In recent times, both Hindu and Muslim women have come forward and vocally opposed the strictures which deny them their rights. These include the right to enter dargahs and temples. Since political support is not always forthcoming and religious bodies are administered by patriarchal entities, the courts and civil society are the main hope for women in their drive for gender equality.