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Sabarimala - Prejudices, Misconceptions and Ignorance

I am bewildered by the intensity of reactions that media and political agendas can extract from a person. Lately it is because of the Sabarimala temple issue. Our Supreme Court has given a verdict on “unrestricted entry for all regardless of the gender or age or reproductive health”, citing Women’s rights and gender discrimination against Hindu women, feeling noble to have attempted to establish equality among Hindu men and women.

Legally, the doors of the Ayyappan temple have been thrown open for women but that is the least of their problems. Devotees, believing their culture and tradition is being interfered with are widely protesting all over the state of Kerala and aren’t allowing the women to enter. The women meanwhile, all over the country, believing it to be the hour of equality, have suddenly woken up from their slumber. These females, Hindu, Non-Hindu alike are partaking to enter the temple wherein strangely the question of being an actual devotee is irrelevant. There is a mass hysteria spread and every menstruating woman suddenly believes that the only way to prove their purity during “those five days” is to enter the Ayyappan Shrine.

Unfortunately, this is due to deep routed insecurities and a reaction to centuries of prejudice coupled by a lack of information and going with the public hearsay.

Looking at where the whole menstruation issue began, we need to understand that during the olden times, there were no proper sanitation facilities or ways to appropriately handle the bleeding and that led to unhygienic conditions. Neither were there any medications, sufficient to help control the physical discomfort. So naturally, the women were advised to take rest, to not work in the kitchen or go out to the temple as the contamination might lead to diseases. As the traditions pass down from generation to generation they are often modified to fit in with the prevailing times and norms, often by the ones that hold power; hence most of the traditions in our country have a patriarchal trace to them.

This as a result has led to a situation where in such norms, which were devised for the benefit of the women, have now become a reason for bias, to the extent that the females are termed as impure. There is absolutely no reason to follow these in today’s times and yet somehow the practice has been continued and the women, even the educated ones are often too embarrassed to question it and believe their own selves to be tainted. It is perfectly alright to travel in the crowded metros, attend a seasonal sale on a weekend or even go out for a Saturday night at the “it” place, but somehow going to a temple will contaminate the area.

The word “menstruation” is a taboo which is spoken about in hushed whispers behind closed doors among females. Men shy away from the topic and it is considered embarrassing and uncomfortable so much so as to even mention it in front of the male gender. This attitude of “something to hide” has lead to many superstitions about a natural bodily function which have no scientific base. The lack of open discussion has made it difficult to separate fact from fiction and therefore the women just take it as it is with a submissive attitude.

All these centuries old pent up emotions exist and here comes the perfect gift wrapped platform to take it out on. The apex judicial power recognizing this inequality and removing the age old irrelevant patriarchal misogynist rule sounds marvellous; but did we even stop to ponder upon the sudden political empathy in the menstrual rights of a woman, who before today had turned a blind eye to the phenomenon, treating it as non-existent? Did we bother to check our facts and perhaps read up on the deity we so wish to worship?
Hinduism is a religion of many deities and it is fascinating that they each have their own background, coming together under the big umbrella of the religion harmoniously. The tale behind Sabarimala temple is that Lord Ayyappan was worshipped as a ‘Naishtika Bramhachari’ or eternally celibate. The legend has it that Lord Ayyappan released a beautiful woman from her demon curse and the woman, Malikapurathamma wanted to marry him. Lord Ayyapan refused as he wanted to answer to the prayer of his devotees and so out of respect for Malikapurathamma, he does not receive any menstruating women so as to remain eternally celibate.

The Sabarimala issue does not relate to the fact that women are impure so they can’t enter the temple, as the precedence doesn’t say anything about those particular five days. The simple fact in this case is that the women in that particular age group are capable of creating life, and the deity being celibate, chose not to entertain such devotees. Some might say that this practice was fabricated by a patriarchal society, and perhaps it was. But that’s a belief and so is even the existence of Lord Ayyappan. He is stemmed out of convictions and his background and his nature are all such so how can we conclude that one must respect the belief of Lord Ayyappan’s existence and shun out all the other faiths with regard to his creation.

I am against the patriarchal society, and eschew all possible superstitions, encouraging people to do the same. It is true that there exist misconceptions regarding the purity of women during their menstruation period and they must take a firm stand against all these beliefs which are detrimental to them but this issue isn’t the place to voice those views. We must realise that there is a logical reason behind this particular belief, one that must be respected for the sake of the devotees which are close to two crore in number.

Although fraught with misconceptions, the Sabarimala issue has at least led Indians to openly use the secret taboo word and has also ignited this attitude of “my period is natural” within the women, making them question their rigid beliefs. The society must continue with this awakening but needs to attribute the protest against beliefs of impurity and other forms of discrimination, not violating a particular deity’s beliefs.

Though legally, the women have no restrictions, it is the deep routed beliefs and norms coupled by the actual conviction of being impure that do not allow them to enter any temple during their menstruation period. These embedded beliefs are to be broken free from, preventing them from being passed down to the next generation and thereby abolishing the prejudice.

Articles on Sabarimala:

  1. Devotion Cannot Be Subjected To Gender Discrimination, SC Allows Women Entry In Sabarimala By 4:1 Majority
  2. Freedom of Religion and Sabrimala Judgement (2018)
  3. Violation of Woman right in Sabrimala Temple
  4. Sabrimala Case Verdict
  5. All about the Sabrimala Temple
  6. Religion and Equality in Liberal Constitutionalism
  7. A Year of Constitutional Morality

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