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Religion has always treated women as second class citizens. Why, then should we fight to GET into a temple? Let us all women boycott temples and any places of worship!
Opposite my aunt’s apartment in Dombivli, towers a huge behemoth of a temple. It is a beautiful temple built out of intricately carved marble, kept spotlessly clean. Every time I visit, I see a pair of cleanliness workers hanging from precariously suspended slings, cleaning the lofty shikharas of the temple. In addition, there are others sweeping the floor, polishing the large chandeliers, and making sure that the grime of the city doesn’t deface the blinding white cleanliness of the temple.
So clean. And yet, the entrance is marred by a large ugly sign, and even more by the offensive instructions on the sign. It says (among other things) – ‘Women on their period may not enter the temple premises’. The message is reiterated in Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati.
During a family get-together at my aunt’s, my cousins and I heard about this offensive signage, and we were obviously appalled. Not visiting temples during one’s periods is a well-practised rule in most Hindu households; however never had we seen a temple so blatantly advertising its prejudice. So charged up were we, that the three of us decided to flout rules and visit the temple. As luck would have it, one of us was playing host to Aunt Flo. And so we bestowed our ‘impure’ menstruating presence on the temple, clicked a picture or two of the offending signboard and finally headed back home.
Sure, it felt good to rebel. It was liberating. It was exhilarating. We felt like heroines delivering a well-aimed kick to patriarchy. But did it make a difference? Other than increasing the footfall at the said prejudiced temple, did our small rebellion help spur feminism further? Had we made a difference beyond ourselves? In the case of Sabarimala, which received national media coverage, have we feminists broken the stigma attached to menstruation by forcing entry into the temple?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the principle of it. Women (and men) should have the right to worship sans discrimination. And I love the Supreme Court for standing in solidarity with women (and in another wonderful ruling – with the LGBT community). But in the twentieth century, in the age of science and technology, why, oh why are we fighting to enter temples? Aren’t our efforts quite misplaced?
By fighting to enter a temple, we are actually fighting for inclusion into yet another patriarchal, sexist institution – Religion. Women have traditionally been excluded from the upper echelons of most major religions. In Hinduism, women are not allowed to enter temples when on the period. Not just Sabarimala, you guys. ALL TEMPLES. This is enforced by mothers, aunts and grandmothers, in a perfect example of internalised misogyny. Women are not allowed to preside as Pundits or priests at temples and even at household Pujas. Because menstruation.
Before a ‘What-about-er’ comments about how liberals only target Hinduism, let me say that the other major Indian religions – Christianity and Islam – are the same, if not worse. While there are nuns, there are no women priests, let alone a female Pope. The recent rape of the nun in Kerala and the Bishop’s Council’s lack of support speaks volumes of the value of women to religion. Islam too, forbids women from entering certain mosques. Again, there are no women Imams. And let’s not even get started on practices like Triple Talaq or the Hijab.
In mythology as well, women have never been given equal status. The Greek myth of Pandora and the synonymous myth of Eve, blame women for humankind’s fall into sin. Hinduism has the Apsaras who are routinely sent by the gods to disrupt a sadhu’s meditation by seducing him. Women are portrayed as vehicles of lust and the onus of a man’s celibacy somehow falls on the woman. Incidentally, this is also one of the traditional reasons for barring women into the Sabarimala temple. The god Ayyappa is celibate and so the temple doesn’t want any women.
Religion (and by extension tradition) is filled with sexist rules, even in present times.
Women are supposed to be the homemakers while the man is given the title of ’Head of the family’. Women are subjected to a number of traditional but regressive practices like changing her name after marriage, kanya-daan or ‘giving away’ one’s daughter, being barred from reciting certain mantras, wearing a mangalsutra or sindoor as a sign of marriage, wearing a hijab or veil, and many more. The practice of triple talaq is similarly one-sided.
The truth is that religion has long since treated women as second-class citizens. So why then do we fight for inclusion? That’s like saying- because men smoke, we women want to smoke too. Sure, you can, but should you? Men shouldn’t, either!
Religion has traditionally been the domain of men. And let it remain that way. Let’s topple the patriarchy by boycotting all temples, churches and mosques. Because the problem is not just Sabarimala, it’s all temples. If fifty percent of the population (or near 50%, given India’s penchant for female foeticide), boycotts religious institutions, religion will come to a standstill. In fact, women perpetuate religion much more than men do. Let’s stop please!
Let’s break the glass ceiling, but let’s aspire to climb and better ourselves. Break the corporate ceiling by coming out as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as top doctors, scientists, lawyers, engineers, artists, diplomats, entrepreneurs, police officers and more. That is a good use of our time and energy. Not Sabarimala. Let the glass ceiling at Sabarimala stay intact. Let their doors stay shut.
Even though the Supreme Court, like a benevolent old Uncle, has provided us entry into Sabarimala, just take a rain check. Thanks but no thanks Mr Ayyappa. We ain’t got no time for your misogyny.
Image source: Twitter
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Yashodhara is a brand-new mommy, IT professional and cat lover who lives in Mumbai.
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