Faith Has No Gender Lift the ban on women entering the Sabarimalai temple
Recently the crime branch of Kerala police have charge-sheeted Kannada actor Jaya Mala for violating the religious practice that barred women from entering the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimalai and touching the male idol. Its ironic that criminals and scamsters are roaming free and when a women devotee—Jaya mala—goes to the Ayyappa temple to pray for her late husband’s health and when the crowd pushes her, she touches the idol by mistake as Jaya Mala has clarified, she is booked on criminal charges. So much for women’s empowerment! The reality is that for every one positive step taken forward in women’s empowerment there are three negative steps to push women backward. My Muslim friend said that much is made of women’s discrimination in Islam like the wearing of burkha and the triple talaq. “Look what is happening to you Hindu women,” she said: “Isn’t prohibiting a woman from entering the temple discriminatory?” My friend definitely had a point there. A few years ago actress Sudha Chandran had performed a classical devotional dance programme below the 18 holy steps leading to the temple leading to a hue and cry.
Come December it’s time for the main festival—the Mandala Puja and the Makara Vilakku which continues till mid January in Sabarimalai. Men wearing plain black, blue or Saffron-colored traditional dress get ready for the long journey to Sabarimalai, but women cannot accompany them. Fertile, menstruating women and girls who have attained puberty are considered unclean, therefore they are not allowed in the temple. When Jaya Mala confessed to have touched the idol, she was accused of involvement in a deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings and booked under section 295 of the Indian Penal code. A woman devotee entering the Ayyappa temple and touching the idol is not a crime as the temple Devaswom Board makes it out to be. The real crime here is violating the fundamental right of a woman to worship and tampering her religious faith. State Devaswom Minister G Sudhakaran gave a statement saying that “she (Jaya Mala) is liable for prosecution, if what she said is true” of touching the idol. When the left government in Kerala declared that it would petition the Supreme Court that women should be allowed in the Sabarimalai temple, Minister Sudhakaran to save himself from the legal hassle changed his stand and said that the Kerala government would submit to the Supreme Court that it was all for allowing women of all ages into the temple if the Court’s notice specifically asks for the government’s opinion. The Supreme Court ordered that notices be issued to the Kerala state government—Travancore Devaswom Board and others in a PIL questioning the entry ban on women. The Travancore Devaswom Board said it would oppose the government’s affidavit.
The reasons given for the entry ban on women at the Sabarimalai temple are so flimsy.
The 8 km trek to the temple amid dense forests is arduous for women therefore women should not be allowed to come to Sabarimalai. Today women are breaking the glass ceiling globally all over. They are boldly entering the army, navy and air force hitherto considered to be purely male bastion, where a lot of physical stamina and fitness is required and professionally doing as well as their male counterparts there. Let the woman devotee decide for herself if she can undertake the journey or not. The Devaswom should refrain from interfering in the woman’s faith and her freedom.
Ayyappa is a bachelor God and his bachelorhood will be broken if he sees women. What the temple authorities are saying here is that the male devotee’s attention will be broken, if they see women in the temple. After 41 days of abstinence from sex during the penance period men may go wild with desire if they are joined by women in the temple. Blame it on the frailty of men! Why should women be stopped from entering the temple for male shortcomings?
The temple board mentions tradition to bar entry to women to the temple. Traditions are man made and if discriminatory as this one is, they should be challenged as it is rightly being done.
By Prof Indira Satyanarayan