Dear Trupti Desai,
While your fight for gender equality is admirable, the individual battles you chose have only a symbolic value. Entry into Sabarimala or Haji Ali Dargah may make news as long as the battle lasts and then, it will be forgotten. Can you tell us how many women have worshipped at the Haji Ali Dargah after your victorious entry? There are thousands of women who still voluntarily abstain from entering temples during menstrual period because they have been told they are not ‘clean’ during the periods. And there are thousands who cannot enter a masjid to pray along with their men. I would rather tell these women that a god or a peer who looks at the state of your body not at your devotion is not worthy of your worship. If these gods have the ordinary man’s bias, they are unfit to be gods. Men who feel distracted by the presence of women even in a place of worship are unfit to pray there and they are the ones who are to be prevented entry, not women.
What is required is a change in the way women view themselves, particularly the process of menstruation. They, and their men, must realise that it is as normal a process as salivation and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Children who see women treated equally and respectfully by their fathers will learn to do so when they grow up and this will bring about the change in the whole society in the shortest time.
T. Sudhakar Bhat
A revolutionary step
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your successful entry into the Shani Shingnapur temple, the Mahalakshmi temple and the Haji Ali Dargah. I appreciate the determination and perseverance of the members of Bhumata Brigade for campaigning to gain entry for women into religious places. I strongly believe there should be no gender bias when it comes to God and religion.
It would be inappropriate to assume that the Sabarimala Temple trust is being misogynistic, as girl children and women post menopause are permitted to enter the temple premises. However, I am not convinced with the stated reason that a woman of menstrual age group entering the temple will affect the celibacy of the presiding deity. There should be no prejudice in letting women offer their prayers in the temple premises given that there is no scriptural evidence for preventing the entry of women in religious places.
It is a revolutionary step that you have taken to fight gender discrimination, which is still prevalent in India despite the efforts of a number of activists to promote gender equality. Women cannot be denied their constitutional right to pray, irrespective of their age. I strongly support and welcome your decision to challenge the traditions and enter the Sabarimala Temple premises this month because it is the faith and love that matters, not the gender or age.
The significance of your motive to challenge the prevailing norms and breach one of the most important and absolutely obeyed traditions of Sabarimala is quite invisible to me. Whether you're trying to emphasise on the equal treatment of men and women at places of worship or doing this out of mere curiosity about what the outcome of your venture would be, I cannot fathom.
Being a person who have questioned the selective entry of devotees in Sabarimala a few years ago, I myself believed that women in general must be allowed to enter the temple. But now, after deep study and interviewing people on this matter, I've come to terms with the feminist in me. India, being a country renowned for its culture and traditions, must be allowed to retain a few of its beliefs if they cannot be categorised as unjust to the citizens. Unjust practices like untouchablity and sati have been done away with. If you aim to wipe away the practice of not letting women of menstrual age enter Sabarimala Temple by going there yourself when you fall into the above said category, I must politely point out that this practice cannot be entirely deemed as unfair to women as it does not bar the female gender altogether from entering the place.
If you have a debate with yourself, you would probably realise that other than evoking the wrath of a majority of the devotees, earning the consenting nods of a few others who back you in this act and getting the satisfaction that you did what you felt was right, you wouldn't be doing much for gender equality. So, I request you to think twice before you do anything radical.
Slow and steady wins the race
Let me, at the outset, congratulate you on the success you have achieved so far in your endeavours to ensure gender equality in such a highly patriarchal society as ours. In keeping with your reputation as an intrepid crusader against male chauvinism, you have now taken a decision to enter the Sabarimala Temple, where traditionally women in the menstrual age group are not allowed entry.
That women in the menstrual age group are not allowed entry in the temple is a case of blatant gender discrimination. But those who defend this do so in the name of a 900-hundred-year-old tradition. But the fact is that it infringes upon the fundamental right to equality of gender guaranteed by the Constitution.
Therefore, there is no justification for it. But the fact remains that the Kerala High Court, in a judgement in 1991, upheld the tradition followed by the temple which denies women in the menstrual age group permission to enter the temple. In all probability, the court might have erred in its judgement. After all, even courts are not infallible.
The issue is now under the consideration of the Supreme Court. The government of Kerala has told the court that it is fully in favour of ending this discrimination by allowing women to enter the temple. Since the matter is sub-judice, any attempt now to enter the temple can be interpreted as an act of denigration of a constitutional institution. The patriarchal forces you are fighting against may find this a golden opportunity to malign you, your NGO and the movement that you are spearheading. Being powerful and politically influential, it won't be a surprise if these forces, with the help of a section of the media, can paint you and your movement as anti-national. I, therefore, would like to advise you to put on hold your decision to enter the temple and wait for the verdict of the apex court.