It was 10.30 AM at the Sabarimala when the Chief Priest of temple closed the main gates for an hour to conduct the purification rituals. The move sent the entire state into a series of protests and the matter reached the doorsteps of the Supreme Court of India which on yesterday refused to hear on the petition seeking contempt proceedings against the priest.
Last year on Sept 28, in a surprising verdict, the Supreme Court had struck down an earlier rule that disallowed girls and women in the 20-50 age groups from entering the hallowed Sabarimala temple in Kerala. It is strange but true that Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in the religious rituals.
In most of Hindu temples, women are allowed to enter as long as they are not menstruating; but Sabarimala temple is unusual in a sense because it did not allow women in such a wide age group to enter at all.Hindu devotees claim that the ban on women entering Sabarimala is less about menstruation per se and is more about keeping with the wish of the deity who is believed to have laid down a set of rules about the pilgrimage to seek his blessings.
Every year, millions of male devotees trek up a distance of 35 km through difficult terrains passing through steep hills, often barefoot, to visit the shrine. They are also supposed to undertake a rigorous 41-day fast, abstaining from smoking, alcohol, meat and contact with menstruating women before they begin the journey.
According to a popular legend, Lord Ayyappan is an avowed bachelor who has taken an oath of celibacy and any sort of contact with a female is a no-no. It is also assumed that Ayyappan was born out of a union between two male gods which gave him the divine power to defeat a she-demon who had been unstoppable till then.
Last year, the five-judge bench delivered a 4-1 verdict and Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge on the bench, disagreed with the majority verdict. In her dissenting opinion, she said that issues relating to deep religious sentiments should not be normally interfered by the court and the notion of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion.
We can’t believe such things are happening in the 21st century and that too in a state which boasts of 100% literacy rate for last 30 years and where women traditionally play a more dominant role. It only reinforces the fact that freedom for women in India is still a myth. We educate them and feel proud for treating our daughters like sons but then we expect them to have the same kind of lifestyle and role that they would have had, had they not been educated.
We always assumed Kerala was a matriarchal society courtesy our school textbooks for spreading the misinformation. It seems Keralites are still very conservative about their daughters in general and like to keep them under their thumb and also expect them to follow the societal norms. This only makes us to think are women after so much of empowerment in last few decades still the lesser Children of God?