To anyone who says only atheists question the restrictions on women from entering the temple, I believe in God and offer prayers everyday.

As a woman of the right age I wish I was allowed to visit Sabarimala earlierCourtesy: PTI
Blog Gender Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 12:27

In September 2016, I finally went to Sabarimala.

After missing the chance of going to the temple at the age of 10, I had to wait this long to see Sastha. It was a dream come true for me, and was a unique experience - right from wearing malai, following vratam, Irumudikattu, climbing pathinettempadi, Sasthadarshan and listening to the Harivarasanam by Yesudoss.

Though I have never felt underprivileged being a woman, the entry ban to all women between the ages of 10 and 50 at Sabaramalai has always made me feel so.

While it is much easier to climb the hills when young, even the fittest woman goes through physical changes after 50, due to childbearing, over exertion, work related stress etc. I was torn inside every time when my brothers went to Sabarimala.

I noticed the look of the people when I was attired in the blue saree with thulasimalai. The respectful look saying, “Oh! You are going to Sabarimala!” followed me wherever I went. There were also comments from a few who said, “Good that you are going. I am still not eligible to go”.

I am not an atheist but believe in God and offer prayers everyday. My brothers have been going to Sabarimala close to 30 years and we were brought up in a community of like minded people.

---

I was brought up in a family which never posed restrictions on me as a girl, never relegated me only to kitchen, allowed me to play  in the street with boys, gave me the liberty to travel  alone and return home late.

But although my family was “forward thinking”, there were certain “Lakshmanrekhas” - like the rule about being secluded for 3 days while we were menstruating.

Sometimes we were given reasons, but mostly we were asked to follow the rules blindly.

None of the elders were able to give a scientific reason and it has been passed on from one generation to the next.

In the earlier days, the three days of seclusion was considered a rest for the tired body; but I’ve always felt that women are competent enough to handle the physical pain.

Despite my conviction, I have never openly debated the issue - this injustice to women - in my family. I knew it was always a topic not to be debated.

They have inculcated a fear in me that even after having a proper education about what happens to a girl during puberty, did not help me speak up. I used to step back and think “Should I or  should not ignore what my amma has thrust on me?”

---

In the last decade or so, girls have more freedom, and their mothers do not know about their menstrual cycles except when they say that they can’t go to the temple. It is a welcome change that girls don’t blindly accept what they’re told without a proper explanation. The mothers who are in their 40s & 50s, like me, are always in a dilemma: Should we allow our girls to understand & enjoy the transition, or impose restrictions on them?

Feminism to me is about having the liberty to do what I want, and not competing with men in whatever they do. Here the liberty should not be misconstrued. I strongly believe being anti-man is not being pro-woman.

This is how my daughter has been brought up, who has taken up a very different and difficult profession which is not financially viable to buy a car or a house. But she has all the freedom to express herself, seeks no excuses or liberties because she’s a woman, and compete with men only based on her skills. She demands respect for the authority she shows as a Scuba Instructor and lives in a dormitory along with men.

---

Women today are educated. We run homes and governments, we have excelled in all fields, we have travelled the untrodden path and broken the glass ceiling; yet we are pushed to a corner and forced to prove ourselves.

We’re forced to wait our turn when it comes to an issue like a pilgrimage.

When we are allowed to take other pilgrimages like Tirupathi or Pazhani why not Sabarimala?

Both the LDF and UDF govts have been alternatively defending and opposing the ban, depending on its coalition. So, is it the political parties, their individual and coalition power, vote banks that decide what women should do?

But has not the entire globe undergone change in these years?  Is the shrine of Ayyappa the same as before? Is it as traditional as it was 20 years back? Has not sophistication creeped in everywhere? Do they not choose to flex the rules suitable to them? When they refer to science and updated technology for their changes, why not this? Let the men who make rules in the disguise of tradition respect and recognise the needs of the woman.

---

The mindset and belief of both men and women have to change for the better to accommodate women. While most of the men can never take a “No” from a woman, there are women still in denial and refuse to accept/acknowledge their privileges and fight for those who don’t have the same.

I was also one among them till my daughter grew up and started questioning the beliefs. Thanks to her I became non-judgemental on various issues including LGBTQ+ inclusion.

We women have to shed the psychological and emotional conditioning, and start taking baby steps to live our lives to the fullest.

I changed for better, I changed to contribute to the society, I changed to handle the young resources in my office better, I changed to accommodate and respect my daughter’s views and I changed to keep my identity intact.

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

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.