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Sabarimala Protests: Beyond Blood & Belief, Patriarchy Must Go

Jaya Jaitly stresses upon the need for beliefs & values to evolve with time and for women to be truly empowered.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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‘Belief’ is inherently irrational and unscientific unless it is based on sound, proven and irrefutable evidence. Once evidence is available, that belief becomes a fact and cannot be contested. The controversy ends.

At no point in the history of civilisation can we, as thinking human beings, decide we know all there is to know. Beliefs have changed over centuries across the world. If they hadn’t or weren’t allowed to change, we would continue to believe the earth is flat, plastic is good for us, and other such bunkum.

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Beyond Belief

If indeed our beliefs have changed and we have progressed, how can a portion of a community fight in court for the belief that a deity has a ‘fundamental right’ ‘to practice his version of what celibacy should entail’? Or, believe that women could shake the nature of the deity’s celibacy by their mere presence? Or even that all women between 10 and 50 years of age are menstruating regularly – after all, some girls hit puberty later or even earlier, and some women may have had hysterectomies and don’t menstruate?

‘Belief’ can be inflicted only upon those who choose to believe and not on those who do not.

A simple solution in any sensibly thought out religious practice would have been to believe the ephemeral deity was celibate in his preferences and choices, and that he serves or represents those who choose to be the same.

But in a temple, constructed by man to enclose an inanimate stone or metal representation of that idea, to preclude women of certain ages from entering because it hampers the deities’ practice of celibacy, is to carry the idea beyond belief into the realm of childish play-acting.

Many believers may wish to strike me dead, but I am entitled to rational argument in the absence of evidence of absolute proof. In fact, I have not seen practicing human celibates easily tempted, despite living within the presence of women. Those who are weak are prone to temptation, but surely deities aren’t supposed to be weak? As in rape, is the woman the one who is always to blame for a man’s weakness?

A Short History of Menstruation

If you haven’t read Anita Diamant’s 1997 book The Red Tent, please do so. It started a movement that helped women rid themselves of the stigma attached to menstruation. She writes a novel of biblical times as it would have probably been written if a woman had been its author.

Diamant conjures a time, not based on biblical writings but on ancient common practices in Judaism, Christianity, and in many other cultures like Native Americans, Chinese and Africans, and indeed, as we can add, Indian, when spaces were set up for women to occupy, to care for each other, share stories of womanly strength, wisdom, childbirth, cleansing and value systems at menstruating or ‘moon time’.

From being declared a sacred time when red is seen as a colour of power and blood, it gradually changed over centuries to become an impure time by men with no understanding or concern for the bodily functions of women.
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All Forms of Discrimination Should Be Shunned

While the stigma of untouchability upon Dalits has been removed by law, why should people still object to applying the same logic when it applies to women in the case of temple entry? The caste system still claims legitimacy by sanctifying hierarchical divisions, but credible Hindu and non-Hindu voices have called for its abolition for decades, and our laws do not allow it.

The RSS itself, which claims to speak for Hindus, constantly requires its karyakartas to work amongst society to remove all caste discrimination.

Recently its ideological chief Mohan Bhagwat proudly claimed that if people checked they would find that RSS members had the largest number of inter-caste marriages vis-à-vis other organisations. The reasoning is that society cannot discriminate between individuals based on the circumstances of their birth, including physical disability; menstruation for women is certainly not a physical disability for which a patriarchal religious order must ostracise, exclude, diminish or in any other way shut out women, using a deity as an excuse.

A Temple of Modern Democracy

For a country to truly call itself egalitarian and just – one not being possible without the other – a law cannot bow down to sectarian beliefs of multiple niche communities simply in the service of ‘diversity’. By the same reasoning, how can women have opportunities to get political empowerment if Nagaland disagrees on reservation for women because of tribal beliefs, or Muslims because of religious beliefs?

A parliament is a modern temple of democracy. Can theocracy and ritualistic beliefs ride over it?

If the parliament is open to women, temples should be too, irrespective of the physicality of the women. Let the temple doors be opened, and those women who choose not to offend the deity stay away, and those who think beyond that, enter. That would be allowing true freedom from patriarchy.

(The author is a social activist and former president of the Samata Party, a coalition partner in the NDA-I government. She tweets @Jayajaitly. 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.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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