Why Do Women Have Such A Problem With The Sabarimala Verdict?

Posted: October 18, 2018

The recent Sabarimala verdict allowing women to enter Sabarimala is being strongly protested by many women! Anjali Paul examines why women have such a problem with a tradition being changed.

I was pleasantly surprised when the recent Sabrimala verdict was passed lifting restrictions on the entry of women into the Sabarimala shrine. There was no doubt that it was a landmark judgement.

Among the 5 member panel, it was the sole female member who cast a dissenting vote. She clearly mentioned that the judicial system has no right to meddle with age-old religious beliefs and rituals even if they are discriminatory in nature. And this seems to be the sentiment shared by most people.

But if that was so, years back if our social reformers had thought the same, we would still be living in a country where women would have been jumping into their husbands’ funeral pyres, a country where polygamy would have been rampant, children would still be married off, and women would never have dreamt of an empowered life nor a Dalit ever imagine being educated. The list is endless. Most of the above-mentioned age-old traditions too had a deep-rooted religious backing which was both derogatory and prejudiced against the so-called ‘weaker sex’.

A point to note here is that there were hardly any women social reformers during the 19th century when a majority of women’s issues first came under the spotlight and reforms were being made. Instead of celebrating their new found rights and freedom, there were many women lamenting the abolishing of these age-old traditions.

Strikingly, even now in the 21st century, any challenge to the status quo especially those which have religious backing is treated with contempt. A vast number of women in Kerala considered the verdict as being blasphemous and out-rightly refused to enter the pious shrine of Sabarimala for fear of the wrath that they would have to face by ‘dishonouring’ the celibate Lord Ayappan. What is ironical is the fact that there is strong evidence that women, even though in small numbers were allowed to enter the shrine before a ban was imposed in 1991 restricting the entry of women falling in the age bracket of 10- 50 years.

Many argue that menstruation was never the reason to ban the entry of women into the sacred shrine but that the ban was based on a puranic legend that claimed that Ayappan would remain celibate till the day kanni swamis (first time devotees) stop coming to Sabarimala. And for him to remain celibate and answer the prayers of his devotees, he should not be distracted. Yet nowhere in this ancient legend have women been told not to enter the shrine.

Some highly regressive and sexist comments are making the rounds which make you shudder and actually wonder if we women even considered human. Some claim that the temple will turn into Thailand if women enter Sabarimala and that no woman must complain if she is harassed by a man during the pilgrimage as she would be bringing it upon herself. Another Malayalam actor spewed venom by saying that any woman who steps into the revered shrine must be ripped into two. What gives any man the right to talk about a woman like that? Don’t all these men owe their very existence to a woman? Why do women still behave like they are second-class citizens and revel in this sexism thrown at them?

God is universal and religion should be a connection with the creator which must transcend artificially created barriers based on certain beliefs which lead to unacceptable discrimination.

While the whole issue has now turned into a politically instigated agitation, it’s now time for women to understand that the verdict just allows you to exercise a choice and is not a compulsion. As long as women are given that choice, there will be no need for any reforms or revolutions to take place.

Inspired by the Sabarimala verdict, another movement has gained momentum – the demand for the right of entry for women into mosques and the priesthood. With more women realizing that religion is being used as an instrument to propagate patriarchy, such demands are bound to gather traction.

With the arrest of Bishop Franco and the subsequent impact on the Church, we must now realize that no religion is immune to the law and judiciary.

While change is the only thing that is constant, we as women must welcome these changes with open arms especially when they are being made with the aim of breaking the misogynist mindset that has existed for years. Stand for your tribe woman, rather than pulling it down!

Image Source – ABP News Video

I am a mom who works from home and dabbles with writing when time permits.

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