Why Is Menstruation An Excuse To Ban Women From Entering Temples?

Posted by Gargi Kalita in Specials
December 8, 2017

India is a place where women are worshipped as goddesses, but sadly, it is also the place where women at large become victims of witchcraft, rape and many other atrocities.

I believe that a woman in India is shackled from the time she is in the womb until the day she reaches the grave. No doubt that lately, there has been considerable improvements in women’s education and rights, but the society never fails to draw that impalpable line between males and females, boys and girls and men and women.

In fact, the society pays no heed when it comes to recognising a woman’s independence. They often forget that just like men, for women too, it is integral to acknowledge, along with welfare, their right to live as free human beings. To give them the liberty and the freedom to hold opinions and ambitions divergent to their own. I do not think it would be wrong to say that we belong to a country wherein a majority of the families rejoice in joy when a boy child is born, but their happiness fades away if a girl child is born, because they regard her birth as a liability.

Our society is mostly hypocritical when it comes to recognising women’s rights. We keep on talking and discussing the discrimination and adversities faced by women, but when the time comes, we deplorably fail to take a stand against the wrongdoers and fight for justice. From times immemorial, women have been subjected to dominance, harassment and discrimination. But one thing which compels me the most to question my country’s core cultural and societal values and heritage is the ban on a woman’s entry into places of worship.

This is one of the most irrational things I have ever come across. As far as I know, Haji Ali Dargah (Mumbai), Ranakpur Temple (Rajasthan), Patbausi and Barpeta Satra (Assam) and other places have barred women from entering into the shrines and temple premises. I just have two simple questions for all those who think it is wrong to allow women into the places of worship – Do you have a constitutional right to prevent women’s entry? What is your logic? They might not have an apt answer to my questions, but in my opinion, this ban is part and parcel of the long and deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes held against women.

I belong to Assam. It is my privilege to be born into the land which had given birth to warriors and patriots like Bir Lachit Borphukan, Birangana Kanaklata Baruah and saints like Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and Sri Sri Madhabdeva. But when I see this illogical side of my society, a terrible anguish strikes my heart.

Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva established the Patbausi Satra. Here he had completed the composition of the religious text “Kirtan Ghoxa”. Women are barred from entering the shrine of this satra, and the concerned authorities cited ‘menstruation’ as the reason for the ban because in their opinion menstruation makes a woman impure. It created quite a stir when in 2010, the then Governor of Assam Lt. J.B.Patnaik took a firm step by taking around 20 women along with him into the satra’s shrine. Following this, the satra was open to women for a brief period, but eventually, the ban was reimposed.

Similarly, the Barpeta satra cite menstruation as the reason for the ban on the entry of women into the Kirtan Ghar of the satra. Sri Sri Madhabdeva built this satra. As per local traditions Aai Sumati, the wife of the first Satria Mathura Das (a Satria is a person who is in charge of a satra) had entered the shrine when it had caught fire,  to save the religious texts from burning and to prevent the Akhand Jyoti from dying out.

After coming across such events, I do not think that there were any such rule that prohibited the entry of women into the shrines. I believe that these obnoxious rules had never been laid by our saints. They had been put into practice by those in power who regarded themselves superior to women. Reports say that eminent personalities like Indira Gandhi, Amartya Sen, and Mamoni Raisom Goswami had tried to talk to the authorities regarding the ban, but they were lent a deaf ear.

With utmost respect to all religions and cultures, I cannot help but strongly feel that with changing times, certain norms and traditions of the society must be wiped out. Traditions must be valued as long as they are logical and if the logic vanishes, they become null and void and there is no point in continuing it. Speaking about menstruation, well, it is a natural phenomenon. It has nothing to do with a person being pure or impure. It has been given to women by the Almighty. How could it be impure? It is only because of menstruation that women can bear a child. Now, if because of menstruation women are considered impure, then how could the baby be deemed as pure?

Our saints also spent nine months of their lives in a woman’s womb.  So it means that our saints too are a part of that impurity. But, how many of you would agree to this? Can you regard Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhabdeva as impure? When by no means you can point fingers on our reverend saints, why hold on to this illogical belief? Above all, nothing can stop people from worshipping God in their mind and heart, then why this impractical physical barrier? What about the other days when she is not menstruating? Why debar her from conducting her religious practices? Even if a woman is menstruating, she can chant mantras and pray God. So, how is the ban even relevant?

Our saints did never propagate such teachings and principles. All they tried and wanted was to create an egalitarian society where everyone would have equal rights and equal respect. Stop carrying out this absurd and irrational practice by saying that this has been going on for ages and that our saints started this. Even if it is proved that our saints had established these norms, just once, ask your conscience. Is this right?  What do I gain from debarring the rights of women?

It is high time that we give up such narrow notions and wrong practices and do away with all these prejudicial treatments. We must develop a broader mindset and try to look up things from varying perspectives so that we can pave the way for a better and more progressive society.

Image for representational purposes only. Source: dominiqueb/Flickr