Sunday, March 19, 2023
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Girls, why do you want to go to temples like Sabarimala at all?

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The story of women’s freedom is not being written in temples, but in markets, schools and colleges and at workplaces.

They are girls, they want to go to temples. They don’t want to go there to become priests or managers or to stake claim to the humongous wealth and power these temples wield. They do not want to be temple bosses. They are not eyeing temple gold. They go to temples to show their belief, get the blessings of the priests and to see the idols of their Gods. When they go there they will also make small donations, offer their services. They do not threaten the power of the priests in any way. Still, some temples are protesting their entry. They were stopped from entering a Shani temple in Maharashtra. Now, despite a Supreme Court ruling, they haven’t been allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple.

Women have never had a free or unlimited access to temples, nowhere was this a case. Women don’t become temple priests. They don’t become temple managers. Even temples of Goddesses have male priests and managers. In most temples, women can go to pray but when it comes to washing the idols, dressing them up, it is always the men who do it. The sanctum sanctorum of temples is a male domain. It is difficult to say if there is any religious or textual definition of this or if it is the male priests who have established these norms which suit them and later wrote so in scriptures. 

These special powers of male priests have never been challenged by women. Not even the Brahmin women. Males of other castes anyway do not have this special privilege. These privileges aren’t being challenged even today. Women are not even saying that they should at least be the priests in temples of Goddesses. Even today, theirs is a limited and small demand. They just want to see their Gods, even if it is from a distance. This will only strengthen the religious establishment. Once they are allowed into Sabarimala, they are anyway going to touch the feet of male priests and get blessings from them. 

Also read: Congress’ stand on Sabarimala can determine BJP’s success in Kerala

Why then are the male priests protesting the entry of women? 

There is just one reason for this. The religious establishment runs on belief and trust. This trust has to be limitless and unbreakable. If on the basis of faith and belief it is ingrained that this God is celibate and young women who are menstruating should not come face to face with the God, then this belief is beyond argument or science. And so, those who are, on the basis of science, arguing that men and women are equal and so should be allowed entry into Sabarimala are being illogical. If you have faith in religious texts and scriptures then it cannot be applied selectively. Faith is a package deal and you have to accept the scriptures completely. You can’t choose what you like and dismiss the rest. If religion says that women should not enter some temples, then as a faithful how can you go against your religion? This can only happen when the religion changes itself from within or, as you say, reforms itself. The Sabarimala priests are opposing entry of women into the temple because that is what their scripture is telling them to do. 

Each religion changes with time, but the pace of change may vary. Despite Christian texts saying that the earth is at the centre of the universe, and the sun revolves around the earth, the Church doesn’t hold that view today. There was a time when Bruno was burnt alive at the church square for saying that the earth revolved around the sun. But now the Church has apologised for it. This shows the reforming side of the church. But Christianity doesn’t accept everything scientific. A lot of Christians and priests still believe in immaculate conception — virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus. May be, in times to come, the Church will make amends to this belief too.

This has happened with every religion and is still happening. 

Hindu religion considers sati as a practice ordained by the scriptures. Widow remarriage was prohibited. You were not supposed to travel abroad. There was no provision of divorce. Untouchability was accepted in the scriptures. The shudras didn’t have the right to study or own property. Scriptures defined the work of each caste. There was a different punishment meted out to different castes for committing the same crime. Girls were not allowed to study the scriptures. Daughters had no right over the parental property. A lot of this has changed. Some changes have come from within. Some have happened because of the penal code and the Constitution. This is a continuous process. 

Also read: Supreme Court cannot become the priest between Indians and their Gods

The clash between the old and the new will always exist. Those in power and the powerful always oppose change. But when the demand for change or the need for change grows loud, then powers that be, to protect themselves, start accepting the change. May be the practice of sati was correct as per the scriptures, which also say that some are born untouchable, but if the religious establishment insists on implementing these ideas today, it will only harm itself. The malleability of religious establishments is not because it is liberal and humane, but because of its need for survival.

Now, one last thing. Should women insist on entering temples where priests are opposing their entry?

One can ask this question differently too – why do women/girls want to go to temples? Women need to know that their freedom lies in modernity, democracy and the Constitution. That a large number of India women are studying and going out to work or engaging in productive activity, is historically unheard of. This has become possible because the Indian Constitution not just treats them at par with men, but has also given them special rights. 

The Constitution gives equal opportunity to all. Thanks to democracy, women’s vote has the same value as the vote of their male counterpart. They can do almost everything, go everywhere a man can, apart from combat duty in the Army, which still remains the domain of men. The market has also opened up a lot of avenues for women. It is ready to treat men and women as equal as long as it doesn’t lead to losses. The market loves the woman consumer and wants women’s labour too. Science has given tools that make a woman’s life easier, be it through contraceptives, washing machines or mixer grinders. These are all gifts of modernity to women. 

Also read: I oppose Sabarimala verdict because this is not about women’s discrimination at all

What have temples done to make a woman’s life easier or give her better opportunities? 

Women will not achieve anything by going to temples or challenging male priests. Especially women, who are religious and let priests define religion for them, should refrain from this exercise. 

They will not get emancipation in the temple. The temples neither promise this nor claim this. The life of women is changing in the schools and colleges, at workplaces and through markets. Their lives are being transformed by the Indian Constitution. 

This is the path to emancipation.

This article was originally published in Hindi and has been translated by Renu Agal. 

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  1. “Science has given tools that make a woman’s life easier, be it through contraceptives, washing machines or mixer grinders. These are all gifts of modernity to women. ”

    Mr Dilip’s thoughts on the role of women seem pretty clear. Cook food, wash clothes , reproduce..

  2. Friends…places of worship are not the arena to show case the gender equality. …in case of sabarimala there is no discrimination ..only an age limit has been set up…if you don’t believe in the rituals and the traditional values please forget about sabarimala…one must understand that temples all over are constructed based on vastu. .and some scientific calculations…they are not just mere prayer halls…when one enters a temple positive energy is generated which is imbibed by the devotee….

  3. Why r this women creating a mess. If u want to worship the Sabarimala God then try to follow the rules and guidelines set by the temple and the religion. If any women is unhappy with their exclusion then they are most welcome to boycott the Ayappa God and be the follower of some other God.

  4. Ignorance is not a license to blame religion. All four Veda’s have few mantra karta as women. It means they wrote some portion of the scriptures. It is after the invasion by Muslims and Christians women’s rights in India is curtained. What you see today is not because of the scriptures. It is because of the invasion.
    Please provide the verses which prescribed work for each caste?
    While I agree with the title of the article. If you want please add another line, do not let your men go too. For a man to undertake the Shabarimala yatra he needs permission from his wife. If a women feels strongly about this discrimination then she should ask her husband to wait for her.

  5. The question is not about Worshipping at Sabarimala by women..We all know that true worship of any God can be done anywhere…God is not locked up in Mandir or Masjid….
    The whole thing is about an insult to entire womanhood…These so called Bhakta call themselves real Devotees are in fact committing sin by challenging nature..Mensurating women are creators of God just like sperm generating men.If these women are impure so are Men… Women produce egg and Men produce sperm…so going by the logic men should also not be allowed to go to the Temple…

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