Why haven’t women in Kerala stepped up to lead Sabarimala movement? Activists speak out

Contrary to agitation on crimes against women, there has been a marked silence over the Sabarimala issue.
Why haven’t women in Kerala stepped up to lead Sabarimala movement? Activists speak out
Why haven’t women in Kerala stepped up to lead Sabarimala movement? Activists speak out
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With Bombay High Court’s landmark verdict striking down the ban on entry of women to the sanctum sanctorum of Haji Ali dargah on Friday, the focus is back on the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, where women of menstrual age are barred entry. 

While the country celebrates the victory, the absence of a similar mass movement led by women in Kerala is being seen by many as disturbing. Contrary to widespread agitation on crimes against women in the state, there has been a marked silence over the Sabarimala issue. 

We asked a women activist why not many women have stepped forward to lead the movement against Sabarimala.

Sara Joseph, Writer and activist

If you set aside the few women in the state who oppose the ban on entry of women in Sabarimala, majority of the women themselves do not want to enter the shrine. One cannot blame them for thinking so. Women have been conditioned to believe that they are impure during menstruation and that they need to stay away from temples. Moreover, the influence of Devaswom board officials on women is also so pronounced that they believe that officials arguing for the ban, is in itself a validation that such practices are fine.

BRP Bhaskar, Political analyst

The reason why Kerala, which believes itself to be a progressive society, has not seen a mass movement against the ban on entry of women in Sabarimala is because most of the women's groups are heavily politicized. And for a political party to hold on to power, it warrants that they compromise with regressive elements in the society.

Apart from a few progressive women who have come down heavily on the ban, it has not yet developed into a movement. This is mainly because women have accepted the patriarchal system and are unable to see the principles of equality in this issue. 

Parvathi T, Cinema-theatre personality/Activist

Why women in Kerala are not at the forefront in the fight for their entry to Sabarimala, unlike Haji Ali dargah, is precisely because they realize that they cannot observe the 41-day vratam a devotee needs to observe before visiting the temple. Which woman who is a believer will be ready to go to Sabarimala?

KC Rosakutty, Chairperson, Women’s Commission

It is surprising to see how women and activists who hold protests on crimes against women are silent on women’s entry to Sabarimala. We saw a mass agitation after the rape and murder of Jisha a few months back. The primary reason for the absence of protests is their belief that it is not their right to decide for themselves. There is also the idea of sin and guilt associated with breaking religious beliefs and rituals, that women do not even see it as their right.

Preetha GP, Activist

No doubt entry of women to Sabarimala is seen as a religious issue. But most importantly, it should be seen as a matter of gender discrimination, where women of menstruating age are not allowed entry. But I strongly believe that rather than fighting for entry to temples, we must strive to come out of the shackles of faith and religion itself. Why do women want to worship male gods? That is were we should begin the argument.

Arundhati B, Research Scholar, University of Hyderabad

Rather than seeing it as a religious issue, we need to primarily address the gender discrimination that is in place. First, the patriarchal system is so internalized they just don’t see anything wrong with the ban. There is another section of women who hold progressive views, but express them with a disclaimer of not being a feminist, as if being one was some sort of a derogatory term. These women carefully choose to stay away from challenging religious beliefs. And three, for a liberated woman, lifting the ban on entry of women to the temple to make it inclusive of all genders is not a concern. This is because they do not believe in inclusiveness in the regressive belief system itself.


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