The protests against the Supreme Court Sabarimala temple order show that some places in the world are still inaccessible to women, all the magniloquent talk of equality in a democratic world notwithstanding.
Mount Athos in Greece is one such place where the entry of women is forbidden. Not only women, even female animals are not allowed. Mount Athos houses orthodox monasteries where about 2,000 Russian and Greek monks reside. The same system of prohibiting women is followed on Mount Omine in Japan. At its gate, “No woman admitted” is written. Still, the UNESCO declared it a world heritage site.
India, too, has many places where women are barred like Mawali Mata Mandir in Chhattisgarh, Kartikeya Mandir at the Haryana-Punjab border, Kamakhya temple in Assam, Mangal Chandi Mandir in Jharkhand, Ranakpur Jain Temple in Rajasthan, and Shri Padmanavaswami Temple, Shri Krishna Temple and Sabarimala in Kerala.
Women cannot enter some of these religious precincts because the Gods there are believed to be celibates. At Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra, women do not have access to the sanctum sanctorum. And women could not even move around Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. Now, after the intervention of the court, they can go there, but not the inner sanctum. The sanctum sanctorum is considered ‘pure’ and women are considered ‘impure’; so they are kept at bay.
Traditionally, women bore and brought up children, served their husbands and in-laws but did not get any respect or rights. Time changed; now women are no longer house-bound. They have become engineers, doctors, professors, lawyers, judges and topnotch professionals and scientists. They have even gone to space. In politics, they have become heads of states and governments. But all this could not disabuse them of the tag of ‘impurity’ labelled over them by patriarchal society.
The Supreme Court of India declared the practice of not allowing women of menstruating age into Sabarimala as violating the right to equality granted by the Constitution. But for the priests and devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the decision of the apex court does not hold water in the face of the old tradition. They did not allow women to enter Sabarimala, defying the court’s order, and surprisingly, many women devotees joined the male protestors. The attitude of political parties is ambivalent as they fear losing Hindu votes and so fight shy of taking a clear stand.
Religion is patriarchy and misogyny. No religion accepts equality of women. The reason because of which Sabarimala bans women’s entry is the same that of Haji Ali Dargah or Mount Athos.
However, I also wonder whether the people who want women’s entry into Sabarimala by any means think that it will give women equality. Many misogynistic rituals such as shashti, sindoor khela, karwa chauth are celebrated with fanfare and gusto. Even in marriage, the hymns chanted ensure the wife’s subservience to the husband. It was thought that Muslim women would get equality once the practice of triple talaq is banned. Such an absurd thought! Muslim women do not have equal rights under sharia laws that still exist.
We must not forget that women are oppressed because they are born as women. Incidents of rape, gangrape and sexual assault are rampant. Women suffer because of poverty, they are persecuted for dowry, and face domestic violence.
The body and mind of a woman are controlled by men. Female animals are not subjugated and tortured in the jungle the way women in the civilised world are. Animals enjoy equality, we don’t. We created religious places to worship imaginary Gods who are misogynist. Then why do women need to go to temples and mosques? Why do they need to bow down before the deities who treat women as impure, inferior, untrustworthy and untouchable. Women face problems at every step in this patriarchal society, but the truth is, temples and mosques are not going to resolve them.
The stand of Hindu fanatics in the Sabarimala case against the court emboldens Muslim extremists who always oppose judicial interference in their religious laws. They want to perpetuate their age-old anti-women laws. They refuse to be modern. Thus, Hindu and Muslim obscurantists think and act alike. The best solution is to go beyond one’s religious identity. One should say, “You are bad, but why should I not be good?” Instead, religious fanatics say, “You are bad, so why should I not be bad as well?”
Society is evolving. The feminist movement has been trying to change the patriarchal mindset but religious authorities and fundamentalists frustrate it in the name of upholding traditions based on misogyny.
Once upon a time, religious authorities enjoyed absolute power. Naturally, they did not want any dilution of their power. So, they always opposed any reforms. Countries which sidelined religion grew and progressed. Reformers throughout history have tried to make religion humane and free from cruelty and barbarism. In the past, there have been some rulers who tried to reform religion. But today’s rulers praise religion knowing that religion is anti-democracy, anti-women, and anti-free speech. They do not want to separate state from religion completely. If India is a truly secular state, it must not have religious laws. Laws should be based on equality and justice for all—Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. One country, one law.
If women do not have the freedom to enter mandirs, mosques, churches, pagodas, so be it. I do not think it will harm them at all. Gods are male; they hate women. What women need the most is freedom from anti-women religious laws, and freedom from the barbarism of patriarchy. Women need education, healthcare, independence, and security. The fight for these is much more necessary and important than the fight to enter temple or mosque.