By Sukhjeet Singh:
Nowadays every news channel, social networking site, magazines like Youth Ki Awaaz, Countercurrents.org are talking about an issue, a social campaign named Happy To Bleed. The campaign started from a controversy about Sabrimala Temple, and before pondering over the controversy, I would like to add certain information about the temple itself. Sabrimala Temple is situated in Pathanamthitta district, Ranni tehsil, Kerala. It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, with estimated 1 million devotees visiting every year. Sabrimala is believed to be the place where the ‘Hindu God’ Ayappa meditated after killing the powerful demoness, Mahishi. Sabrimala is linked to Hindu pilgrimage, predominantly for men of all ages. Females who menstruate are not allowed to enter the temple since the story attributed to Ayappa prohibits the entry of women in the menstrual age group. This is also because Ayappa is a ‘Brahmachari’, a celibate.
Keeping in accordance with the devotion and rigidity of the celibate, the newly elected Devaswom chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan said on November 13 that, “A time will come when people will ask if all women should be disallowed from entering the temple throughout the year. These days there are machines that scan bodies and check for weapons. There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ (not menstruating) for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside.” After giving this statement, he might have considered himself as someone great, who did a humanitarian and religious act by saying something like this, and he might have relaxed himself. But, a commotion was created when Nikita Azad, a student activist from Punjab answered the Sabrimala chief in her open letter. In her letter, she appealed to end all kinds of gender discrimination. As time passed, the letter reached different magazines, and became a national issue. After receiving massive support all over India, the letter took the form of a social media campaign, ‘Happy To Bleed’. The name is a taunt, an attack on every such belief, practice, statement, and human that upholds the feudal-patriarchal values of a male dominated society, and exploits half the humanity.
I am associated with the campaign from Day 1, and I strongly support this initiative. I, along with some of my friends, have campaigned in Punjabi University, Patiala. We are continuously engaging with students in order to create awareness among them. Although many people of our nation support this campaign, they hesitate in openly supporting it. It is quite difficult for them to say ‘Happy to Bleed’ because of social conditioning. Either they feel embarrassed, or they consider speaking openly about menstruation as a sin, downgraded thing, etc. After analysing such a situation, I think campaigns like Happy To Bleed are very important to challenge these so-called values, ethics, and myths.
There are many other temples, religious institutions, social spaces and political institutions which uphold discrimination like this openly, spread menstrual taboos, create shame about sex, and inculcate gender inferiority in women. Here, some people would say that we are confusing issues, but actually we are placing issues as such, and by not isolating them, we are portraying the exact picture of society. Now, if we talk about the mentality of the temple’s chief, not letting women enter a temple in the name of a celibate god creates an inferiority complex and humiliation about menstruation in women’s minds. This is the reason why many dalit women, women who belong to villages, working class women, feel ashamed to talk about menses to anybody, because god himself had branded them as impure! Because of extreme poverty, and menstrual taboos, women are forced to use clothes etc., and lock themselves in room for five days, only because they undergo a very biological process! Because of lack of correct information about menstruation, many women develop serious diseases, and infections.
The temple authorities repeatedly claim that the actual reason why women are not permitted is that their God is a celibate, so I would like them to answer a few questions. Is their God so weak that in order to protect his celibacy, he needs a team of priests guarding him? Or, will their God be aroused if women enter the temple, and come out of the idol? If he is God, who supposedly exists everywhere, kan kan me bhagwan, how does he protect himself from bleeding women of society?
Another argument is placed, that this custom was made by our ancestors, so it is correct, and we must follow it. Let me ask a question, our ancestors made Sati Pratha, Devdasi Pratha, Dowry system, casteism, so shall we go on following everything blindly? The criteria for a thing to be correct is not its oldness or that it has been made by our ancestors. Its relevance, correctness is judged from the impact it makes on society in a specific historical time and space. Change is the law of nature. Everything in society changes, whether it is religion, an ideology, a law, or a custom because stagnation puts an end to the thing itself. Along with it, listening to our ancestors, and deciding which ancestor we will follow, whose teachings we will uphold, depends entirely on us. Among our ancestors, we have had Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Kabir, Ravidas etc. who have spoken against every form of gender discrimination, casteism, Brahmanism, etc and have shown a progressive way to people.
Let us get back to periods. Those who consider women impure because of the blood that comes out of her body have perhaps forgotten that it is this blood only which gives birth to a new life. If women stop bleeding, will human race be able to continue? In that case, let alone human, even any god will not be able to incarnate. Every human, even those who enter Sabrimala temple are products of this blood. A man spends nine months in this blood while he is in his mother’s womb. It is this blood with which every human is covered at his birth; he takes the first bath in this blood. If this blood is impure, then everybody who enters Sabrimala is impure, and those who consider this blood impure, are indirectly questioning the purity of their god also!
According to ‘their history’, Lord Ayappa was the son of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. Since it was not possible for a child to take birth from two men, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a young, bleeding woman, Mohini. From Mohini and Shiva, took birth Ayappa. So, should we consider Mohini also impure? If yes, then Lord Ayappa had taken birth in the womb of that woman only. The women whom the patriarchs brand as impure, have forgotten that even Lord Vishnu had to incarnate as one. According to this story, the presence of a young woman is the pre-condition of the existence of Lord Ayappa. Secondly, what is the criteria of the purity of those men who enter temple? Which machine is installed which checks men? Who knows whether somebody having anti-society thoughts enters, or somebody who regularly beats his wife, or somebody who locks his daughters in homes, or somebody who is murderer! What is the opinion of temple about these impurities?
Instead of giving answers to these questions, some people negate these as stemming from a western understanding. I think, arguing with logic and science has now become a western culture. Only if one upholds Brahmanism and mythology, that is the Indian culture. The relation of this nation with science and logic is continuously breaking. If the situation stagnates, a day will come when even thinking beyond the periphery of Brahmanism and mythology will be made illegal. I want to appeal to such people that you should please open your minds. In the entire campaign, we have talked about equality, which is neither western nor eastern, but humanitarian. If anything in this issue can be unscientific, it is that machine which the temple chief wants to install. We are only talking about giving women an equal position in society. We are only saying that bleeding is a natural process which is fundamental to reproduction. Considering women impure on this basis, is not only anti-women, but also anti-nature, and anti-humanity.
Anyway, opposition is a normal thing. All humans do not think similarly at one time in a society. Every idea has a favour and against, but these must be based on some logic and science. If opposition is scientific, only then that idea develops, and thus we welcome all scientific opposition of this campaign. But, the kind of resistance that we have seen till date, it compels me to say only one thing, “Wah re mere tolerant hindustanio!”
Up till now, I have only heard about this form of opposition, but faced it for the first time. We have been showered with some shocking laurels like Muslim, Dalit, ‘Go and ask your community’, anti-hindu, naxalites, leave the country , let us beat them etc. Really, after observing this, I understand what is intolerance. We have only launched a week long social media campaign, but when this campaign will reach the masses, who knows what will happen, but whatever it will be, will fall under ‘intolerance’.
We have to think of how to expand this campaign. This discrimination should be exposed in front of those women who accept this for their entire lives without raising a single question. We must reveal the reality of this nation’s calling itself the world’s number one democracy. We must expose how this system crushes democracy and endorses ages old customs and traditions. We must uncover the so-called progressiveness of this society and its nexus with feudal-patriarchal values. We must put forward its hypocrisy which on one hand, boasts of its progressiveness and on the other hand, engenders gender discrimination, casteism, patriarchy, and other reactionary tools for dual oppression of women.
I appeal, not only to every woman, but also to every man, to take this campaign to all different corners of society. Being a man, I would like to say that we men, who have considered women not human, but a slave, a maid, a cook, a caretaker, should stop seeing women as our property in the name of ‘honour’. We should stand with them in solidarity in their fight against breaking the chains of slavery, and dual oppression (classiest, gender), which is against every form of gender discrimination, exploitation; which is for equality, freedom, and respect.