Is it a spiritual act to hold on to gender prejudice?
  • Friday, September 02, 2016 - 18:33
Photo : Sailesh, Wikimedia

By Priya Menon

Waiting is nothing new to women. We’ve waited for things to get better all our lives. So the ‘ready to wait’ campaign, which has kickstarted recently on Facebook, comes as no surprise. This is just another wait which can be added to the list.

As per the campaigners, they are ready to wait till they turn 55 years of age to visit Sabarimala, where millions of devotees throng to get a darshan of Lord Ayyappa. The millions, however, do not include women between the age of 10 and 55 – they are not permitted by tradition to set foot on Sabarimala.

The campaign is actually a counter against the revolt started by people from an opposing school of thought – those who feel that the ban against women visiting Sabarimala is unjust.  

I’m no authority to speak on spirituality, tradition or customs practiced by people belonging to any religion. I just happen to be an ordinary, law abiding citizen of India, who believes in a democratic way of life. I’m not an atheist - I have my own views about my spirituality.

As a student, we had to study Kerala history in school, as part of the curriculum. We were taught about a lot of revolutions down the ages, which I understand, were basically fights against the oppression of the lower masses by the upper classes in the name of tradition, ritual, custom and religion.

History is witness to the fact that irrespective of gender, people from the lower castes could not enter temples, walk on roads leading to prominent temples, or come face to face with the upper castes. They could not dress with dignity, eat with dignity, work with dignity, or live with dignity.

Unfair and heavy taxes were levied on them for all kinds of reasons - right from growing a moustache to wearing jewellery. One of the worst forms of oppression that women faced at that time, was ‘Mulakkaram’. Tradition banned women of the lower castes from covering their breasts. They had to pay a tax if they wanted to cover themselves.

Education was denied to women, child marriage and dowry were accepted socially. Widows were condemned to a life of misery. Feudalism, patriarchy and inequality prevailed throughout, which made life a veritable living hell for women. And the striking part was that most of this injustice was doled out in the name of religion. In fact, many of these practices continue to thrive because they’re entwined with tradition and custom.

Quite obviously, where oppression exists, revolutions are bound to come, and each era witnessed a revolt by the oppressed class to weed out the discrimination against them. Gradually, a lot of stringent rules were flexed to abolish various unjust traditions and customs.

If previously, the oppressed castes decided that enough was enough, and fought their way to enter temples, today, we find women in the menstrual age-group fighting for their democratic right to worship the deity in Sabarimala. Something which has been denied to them in the same name of tradition.

The Supreme Court has recently ruled in favour of women entering a couple of other shrines which so far had been closed to their presence. This would surely make those who want to visit those places of worship happy.

If someone doesn’t want to enter the temple till they turn 55, let them not. It is entirely their personal choice. They have every right to respect a tradition and wait. But if someone else feels oppressed by the fact that they are denied entry to the temple because of their gender, they have an equal right to stage their demands. It is all about faith and tolerance.

I am not a competent authority on God’s wrath, or the concept of heaven and hell. But I don’t subscribe to the notion that someone’s presence can desecrate a place of worship. Holding on to prejudice and preventing women who want to enter the temple is not an act worthy of the truly spiritual.

Namaste! (This salutation just means that ‘I bow to the divine in you’).

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.