A word, when spoken of in India, fans the fires of smirks, disgust, and protests. The recent human chain and 10 women making it inside the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, has been making headlines. Apparently, the deity there, Lord Ayyappa, is a ‘Brahmachaari‘ (celibate), which became a reason for restricting any woman within the age group of 10-50 years from entering the temple. Religious traditions versus gender equality has forever been a conflict. However, this time, the scale is huge. The Supreme Court had made a judgement, earlier in 2018, removing the said religious ban on women entering the temple.
What has been happening is a clear violation of human rights and a large scale example of gender discrimination. Strangely, practising untouchabilty with a specific age group of women is a crime under the protection of Civil rights 1955. All that remains to be understood is how blood from a woman’s vagina, the sole reason why life exists on this planet, is impure. It is a matter of shame how, on one hand, women are regarded as goddesses in India, and treated as an untouchable on the other. Only because of a normal, natural, biological process.
Menstruation, by its most general definition, is a process in which an unfertilised egg shed off from the uterus along with the uterus lining at the end of each month. The average age it starts at is 12-13 years of age, while it lasts till about the age of 50. The cycle is required for the production of oocytes, and to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. It is the base of human society and life—that’s not so tough to understand.
Having said that, periods have always been surrounded by social taboos and myths that limit and effect women in several aspects of socio-cultural life In India. What is sad is that the regressive age-old practices prevail till date. Such social myths and taboos impact girls’ and women’s emotional states, mentality, lifestyle and, most importantly, health. As a result, in our society, young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing it. Adult women may themselves not be aware of the biological facts or good hygienic practices. Instead they pass on cultural taboos and restrictions to be observed in the absence of proper awareness of the health education.
A peculiar pattern one will observe is that all the social norms and rituals have been cleverly used and created by society to maintain a rigid gender binary and to justify discrimination against women and girls. Shame and secrecy during the menstrual cycle is nothing more than a tragically discriminatory attitude.
Menstruation is not a secret or grounds for restrictions on physical, social, and mental activities. It is not a ground for prohibiting someone from participating in normal life, for that matter. There is no scientific reason. But society doesn’t want to discuss these topics openly—neither in a public space, nor a private space. Even women keep mum about this among their friends, in the household, and with men.
In fact, menstrual taboos and rituals are an attempt to control women and suppress them in the name of religion. Society is playing games with women in the guise of rituals and tradition. The truth is that all sacred books have been written by male religious leaders, for their own selfish ends, and continuing the scary face of patriarchy.
One always has the option to interpret their holy teachings, either to exalt or subjugate women. Religious texts are full of male prophets, male saints, and male heroes. The books are written by men and interpreted by men. Thus male religious leaders have written our entire sacred books very politically. As a result, religions elevate the status of men over women, have stricter sanctions against women, and require them to be submissive.
Ironically, in the era of 4G and the ‘highest development phase of the state’, we are not ready to discuss menstruation which is directly concerns women health. There is no scientific reason for this notion to persist that menstruating women are ‘impure’ or ‘unclean’ or ‘untouchable’. This is a strategy to maintain rigid gender walls that perpetuates privilege for a few and oppression for others.
Religion is one of the basic root causes of violence against women. In a contemporary world, women are now welcomed into all major professions and other positions of authority, where women have only one ‘holy book’— the Constitution, which gives equal rights to all human beings.
Religion is the last barrier to female emancipation. Thus, it is time to take on the challenge and set sail for a new course that demands equal rights for women, men, and people of all genders and ages. In reality there are fundamentalists within every religion who actively resist change. The idea that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of traditional religions should be changed.
Very frankly, if religions wish to stay relevant for the next few centuries, they will need to make serious humanitarian modifications. If religion acts against people’s common interests and/or threatens the safety of people without cause, people of faith must ferociously overthrow that religious institution. Thus, it is not only our right to overthrow an unequal and oppressive religious intuition, but also our duty to do so.
It is a time for a watershed moment in Indian legal history and religion because, and the reforms should come from us.