Sabarimala: How Media Fell Into Trap of Caste, Gender Stereotypes
On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court granted women of child-bearing age the right to enter the temple.
Anyone traveling in November and December by train in the southern districts of Kerala, the southwestern state of India, would see crowded compartments filled with men, children and older women clad in black clothes, headed toward Sabarimala temple, chanting “Ayyappo Saranamayyappo” (“Ayyappa, you are our solace”) praising Ayyappan, the deity in Sabarimala temple, while also sharing food and enjoying themselves.
But this past year, the period was marked with sloganeering, acrimonious protests and bursts of violence in Kerala’s public space.
Protests & Counter-Protests
Until 2 January 2019, many women’s attempts to enter the temple were thwarted by protestors largely mobilised under the Hindu nationalist political groups, including the ruling Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP), .
Convergence of Minority Groups
These seemingly disparate groups used shared issue of temple entry as a symbol in the struggle against the Brahmanical supremacy that excluded and oppressed them.
Notions of impurity around menstruation are still prevalent in many forms in Indian society and the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala verdict created an opportunity to break with this age-old tradition, triggering charged protests and counter-protests.
A Wall to Claim ‘Renaissance Values’
Reports claim that hundreds of thousands of devotees participated, praying to Ayyappa to in these troubling times. At least in this context, the tradition is synonymous with the Brahmanical Hindu religion’s conservative conception of purity.
Extensive media coverage of the event showed images of women clad in traditional attire holding jyothi (light) in their hands. In response, on the New Year’s Eve, the left-wing state government mobilised women to form a to reclaim women’s place in society through , a concept yet to be defined.
There are also debates about what renaissance means in this context as well as why the government wanted to masquerade its mobilisation for women’s constitutional right to enter the temple with ambiguous terms.
Polarised Media Coverage
The media images and reportage of these events illustrate a story of how media becomes an implicit partner in fostering the existing caste and gender stereotypes.
Scholars, including , assert that Brahmanical patriarchal protection envisioned savarna femininity based on notions of “chastity, virginity and docile femininity”, and the visuals of the event seem to reproduce this Brahmanical conception.
What is visible here through these images is in the place of many other Dalit, lower-caste, transgender women and bodies, whose absence is made possible through a history of stigmatisation in the name of caste and sexuality.
While the ‘women’s wall’ organised by the LDF government was interpreted as an event of importance that gave visibility, and voices to women and activists, the images in media show them in assertive poses – pledging, sloganeering and speaking.
From the demure woman devotee to the assertive woman, media images seem to replicate the extreme polarisation that the right and the left tread carefully as they aim at the vote banks despite their ideological differences.
This attempt to capitalise on the events is evident in some of the report titles, including “Sabarimala showdown”, depicting a woman activist and devotee who was stopped at the airport of Kochi by crowds chanting after she made it clear she would seek to enter the temple as per the court order.
Nonetheless, the entry of two women, including a Dalit woman – Bindu and Kanakadurga – into the temple in the early hours of 2 January 2019 stands as a symbolic historical corrector that marks a small victory reminding one of the colossal efforts ahead to take many such remarkable first steps.
(The author, Carmel Christy KJ, is Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism, University of Delhi.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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