Women in Sabarimala: Bindu and Kanakadurga Usher in a New Dawn
Bindu and Kanakadurga, both in their forties, set foot in the shrine in the wee hours of 2 January.
On 2 January 2019, Kerala woke up to the news that two women in the menstruating age-group had entered the Sabarimala temple. Bindu and Kanakadurga, both in their forties, set foot in the shrine in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, with police protection.
Detractors are calling it an ‘entry by stealth,’ but for those who have been on the side of the Supreme Court’s verdict, it marks a new dawn. The dawn of an era where women demand that they are heard, not merely seen.
It has been long in the coming, the shattering of this wall. And it took another wall to make it happen – a wall of resistance.
The temple entry follows the spectacular Women's Wall event on Monday, when lakhs of women and trans women stood on the roads in a show of strength and commitment to gender parity. Men, too, came in large numbers. The 620 km wall across all the districts of Kerala was triggered by the debates, discussions, and protests around the Sabarimala temple and its traditional ban on women's entry which the Supreme Court recently overturned.
Though the two national parties, the BJP and the Congress, stuck to their stance that tradition must be respected over the SC's verdict, people from different walks of life, age-groups, and professions stood on the roads of Kerala in a display of peaceful resistance. For those who had doubted the Left government's commitment to implement the SC order, thanks to the weeks of chaos and drama over allowing women to enter the temple, the news came as a welcome affirmation.
However, the battle hasn’t been easy and it is far from over. One must not forget that several women in the state had also protested the SC verdict and participated in ‘ready to wait’ campaigns; many of them continue to believe that menstruation is indeed impure and that the onus of protecting a god’s celibacy falls on them and not the deity.
The demand that women be allowed in Sabarimala isn’t unanimous, but what Monday’s event proved was that the demand that women be banned isn’t unanimous either.
One would also be mistaken to think that the wall was only about Sabarimala – it was much larger than that, the dissent carries the stardust of bigger dreams and greater ambitions that the women of the state have within them.
Before Bindu and Kanakadugra stepped into Sabarimala, there have been stories of privileged women being permitted to enter the shrine. However, what the SC verdict and the government's stance have done is to clearly establish the temple entry as a matter of right versus a matter of discretion. Even today, not many local women enter the sanctum sanctorum in the Shani Shingnapur temple, another place of worship where women were recently permitted to enter. Similarly, we may not immediately see a number of women willing to go to Sabarimala – many of them have to cross mental, familial and societal barriers in order to do so – but it is important that there are no legal or state sanctioned blocks in place. It is important that those who want to make the crossover, however small in number, see that they are not wrong in harbouring such a desire. It is important that the choice exists.
What Bindu and Kanakadurga have done is to open the doors to possibility – that some day, women will not indulge in so much self-hate over their bodies and biological processes; that we will not hold ourselves responsible for another's lack of self-control, man or deity; that we will not find it "normal" to be excluded from anywhere because of our gender.
From blaming the Kerala floods on women's entry into Sabarimala to beating up female journalists who were doing their job, the 'traditionalists' did their best to stop what has just happened. But 2 January is the day they understand that they cannot stop the future from knocking at their door, loud and clear. And in the voice of a woman.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them. Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)
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