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Is there indeed ‘gender discrimination’ in Sabarimala?

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Varun Maturkar
Student of politics and policy. UPSC aspirant
 

On the Sabarimala judgement Chief Justice of India said: “Historically, women have been treated with inequality and that is why, many have fought for their rights.” He further stated, “Patriarchy in religion cannot be permitted to trump over the element of pure devotion borne out of faith and the freedom to practise and profess one’s religion.” Justice DY Chandrachud said in his judgement – “Among the fundamental duties of every citizen recognized by the Constitution is to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.” After looking through various such arguments of Supreme Court judgement it seems the SC wants to imply that there is ‘gender discrimination’ in the Sabarimala Temple and temple wants to forbid women of ‘menstrual age’ citing their impurity. Women are restricted in the temple, not because of the dogma of menstruation taboo but for an exclusively different cause.

‘Gender discrimination’ or just ‘gender distinction’?

Travancore Devaswom Board (TTB) avows that Lord Ayyappa is ‘Naishtika Brahmachari’ (eternal celibate). According to rules particularized in Shastras, a Naishtika Brahmachari should be kept away from all potential women contact, specifically those of reproductive age. The deity Lord Ayyappa was spiritually fixed based on his eternal celibacy, so he should be protected from being provoked by women of reproductive age. TTB has specified that age bar of 10-50 doesn’t indicate that women of menstrual age are impure, but it implies, women of reproductive age shouldn’t be bought near the deity, citing the customs.

These arguments are definitely illogical and unscientific, but does any argument based on religion have a rational basis? Even Justice Indu Malhotra also agreed in her judgement that ‘religion and rationality can’t be mixed.’ Nonetheless, the points raised by TTB prove that the restriction of women in Sabarimala isn’t because of ‘discrimination’ as it is ‘just distinction’ based on traditional folkways.

Are such distinctions only for women?

People think that all such rules are made for women only, but such ‘distinctions’ aren’t only for them, as they also exist for men. 179 km from Sabarimala temple is Attukal Temple also known as Sabarimala of women, is a religious site where men are not permitted. The Pushkar temple of Lord Brahma also excludes married men and allows only ascetics and women devotees to enter the sanctorium. Men are strictly prohibited in Bhagwati Ma temple of Kanyakumari. The exact contrary to Sabarimala, Kamakhya Temple in Assam gives special status to women of reproductive age by allowing them and them only in the sanctorium!

 

In judgement CJI said ‘women have suffered historic injustice,’ will the CJI repeat the same after hearing rules of Attukal temple and Pushkar temple? These distinctions which are based on age-old traditions neither consider women as inferior in Sabarimala Temple nor considers men as inferior in Attukal Temple as seen by Supreme Court and some feminists.

Is it same as denial of Dalits in temple before 1936?

Before 1936, the constraint of Dalits in Sabarimala can be definitely stated as discrimination. That constraint was definitely repugnant as no rules of Naishtika Brahmacharya or any other sensible school of Hinduism indicate to deny entry to Dalits. Maharaja of Travancore positively enshrined verse 4.13 of Bhagavad Gita- चातुर्वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं गुणकर्मविभागश: This verse explicitly says  the four varnas are based on behaviour and work of the person and not on his birth. Prohibition of Dalits from this temple was indeed a sort of discrimination and also a blot on our egalitarian Vedic culture, but the restriction of women in Sabarimala and men in Attukal is not discrimination and certainly not grave injustice as opined in SC judgement.

 

What western feminist thinking says?

Hindu culture which is extremely diverse and aberrant is often opposed by western feminist theories. CJI Dipak Mishra also quoted a noted western feminist thinker Susan B. Anthony to justify his judgement. Albeit, these western feminist thinkers assert- ‘sex’ is a naturally occurring distinction between male and female while ‘gender’ is created by societal oligarchs. The distinction between ‘sexes’ was acceptable for feminist activists while their struggle was against ‘gender discrimination.’ The restriction of women in Sabarimala and men in Attukal is based on a natural cause of ‘sex’ and not dictated by societal oligarchs. Even if we apply this so-called broad-minded feminist thinking, the restriction of women will be seen as ‘sex distinction’ and not ‘gender discrimination.’

Will gender discrimination endure in Kerala?

Apart from these arguments related to such age-old traditions, Kerala, the state in which Sabarimala is located can’t be seen as a place where gender discrimination will take place. If the literacy rate of women in India is 65.46% then figure of same in Kerala is 92.07%. If the sex ratio in India is 943 per 1000 males, the same for Kerala is 1058 per 1000 males.  The IMR rate is 10 per 1000 compared to the national figure of 34. Many researchers appreciate low Gender Disparity Ratio in schooling and college education in the coastal state after comparing with other states of India. Nair community in Kerala is known for matriarchy. Except in certain sectors like the state legislature, gender discrimination in Kerala is rather low. It will be too naïve to say that grave injustice will ever exist in such egalitarian society of Kerala only by denying women entry in Sabarimala.

Solution

As a citizen, I will abide by the judgement of the Supreme Court and will like to suggest Kerala CM and all the stakeholders of the Sabarimala issue take an alternative approach. They may apply Trimbakeshwar formula where both men and women are refused in the inner sanctum of the temple, as a new approach for equality. If maintaining eternal celibacy of Lord is paramount then both men and women can take blessings of Lord Ayyappa outside the sanctorium of the temple thus continuing this spiritual tradition by maintaining eternal celibacy of Lord.

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Varun Maturkar
Student of politics and policy. UPSC aspirant

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