The Curious Case of Gender Based Discrimination In The Hindu Temple Tradition

This is a case for citizens who believe that the SC judgement to allow access to women of all age groups in the Sabarimala Temple is an injustice to the Hindu temple tradition and hence, Hindus.

I will not quote any Shastra, Purana or Veda while arguing my case, nor will I refer to Guru Parampara, not because I do not respect these great writings/traditions, or I am ignorant about them, but rather because like any writing/tradition they are also product of their times, progressive in many ways and regressive in many others.

Sections Of People In Favour/Support

There are two visible sections of citizens and one silent/invisible section in this context of the SC Judgement:

1. A section which is against the decision and hence it’s outcome, referring to Hindu temple traditions and associated religious scriptures.

2. A section which is in favour of the decision, and rubbishes the Hindu religious scriptures/traditions.

3. A section which is in support of the decision, it’s outcome, and selectively and carefully rejects/accepts the Hindu socio-religious scriptures/practices.

I think much has been said and written by the people representing the first two sections; I will humbly try to represent the third. As a male member of the society, I will also try not to mansplain what my female friends and most women in general, undergo in this context.

The traditions are falling in the ambit of what is called the ‘Hindu’ religion today, is rooted somewhere deep down in the history (I am carefully choosing this over calling it a million-year-old civilisation – something that keeps getting stated generously), except its present name, which is a modern-day phenomenon.

Everyone I debate with/speak from the first section, argues that the roots of our religion are pure. Hence, we must go back to them. Sounds nice, but, the problem is everyone has their definitions and understanding of ‘what is pure’ and ‘what are those roots/fundamentals’. So, no matter how much we try to romanticise our religion for social, political or personal reasons, there is no way we are going to find one with agreed upon and identifiable root/s  from where – both the great and ‘bigoted’ traditions have emerged.

The Case Of Temple Tradition

I did not grow up in Kerala and haven’t been to Sabarimala. As a practising Hindu however, I can authoritatively say that it is incorrect to state that a temple is at the helm of Hindu religious practices. Over a period there are various forms of belief systems that have evolved within the fold of the modern Hindu religion. For example, the idea of the ‘Amurta’ (अमूर्त) Brahm and the ‘Murta’ (मूर्त) Brahm. The temple is part of the latter belief system pertaining to the existence of the supreme being having a shape and size as envisioned by the devotee in the form of a deity in the temple sanctum. Similarly, there are the ‘Dwait’ (द्वैत) and the ‘Adwait’ traditions. These belief systems are not under question; they are part of the proof of the free thought that has existed in the culture.

At the same time, it is noteworthy that the same temples have been the centre of discrimination and are dominated by powerful social groups, that have maintained discriminatory practices against both women and lower castes, within the tradition. We know that one part of it (the control of entry by higher castes) has been partly busted by the many anti-caste movements led by Ambedkar, Gandhi, Periyar and several other great leaders. People at that time had fought against these movements with similar arguments of how the practice must not be tampered with – as it has existed for thousands of years.

It was unholy to change them then, but, we did it, and we did it for good.

The Case Of Menstruating Women And Temple

There are various temples where men are allowed a selective entry, which means, on certain days the entry becomes ‘women only’ (the deity’s menstruating days at Kamakhya Temple for example). There is none, where men do not have the entry at all. Men should choose to fight this – because the fundamental idea behind why men are not allowed in Kamakhya Temple for example, when the Deity is menstruating (not saying deliberately that it is just a belief), and why a woman is not allowed to enter a household/public kitchen, household temple or a temple which exists in a public sphere is the same: menstruation is considered impure.

Women have faced a lot of oppression because of this one taboo. It is not a mere coincidence that the #metoo movement and the SC judgement has come almost at the same time; there are undercurrents for a desirable social change – towards forming a more inclusive society.

During Durga Puja, the irony becomes more apparent when on the one hand a menstruating girl is not allowed to enter the same temple where the most potent manifestation of woman is being worshipped, and on the other hand little girls are fed, their feet washed, the water that has touched their feet is considered pure and is used for further purification and blessings.

As a Hindu, I choose not to follow these traditions even if they are written in the Shastras, Puranas and Vedas, and I do it with all the politeness and firmness at my disposal.

About time these traditions change towards inclusiveness and equity in our society.

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