Rigidity vs emancipation
After the Supreme Court's recent ruling that said women of all ages can enter the Sabarimala temple, Kerala's Nilakkal town, the main gateway to Sabarimala, has become the centre of fervent protests by the devotees who do not agree with the SC ruling and would like the age-old practice that forbids young girls and women from age 10-50 to stay away from the temple. On Wednesday, when some women devotees were expected to enter the temple for the first time in its history following the apex court ruling, there were clashes between the protestors and the police, who demolished tents and makeshift shelters of the protesting devotees and resorted to lathi charge against them. The Kerala government has made it clear that it would not file a review petition against the SC ruling while Congress, BJP and many Hindu organisations have protested against the SC ruling. On Wednesday, when the temple opened for the first time after the SC ruling, no woman devotee turned up for the worship at the temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. As per the tradition, people take a vow of celibacy for 41 days before beginning the trek to the shrine.
Sabarimala is one of many the temples in India where women devotees are not allowed as per tradition that has not once been breached in centuries. But such practices are unteneable in the present day world when women are not only proving themselves equal to men in all spheres of life but also turning out to be more assertive about their rights. Entry to a temple for the purpose of worship should be everybody's right but the management of some of the temples have continued to discriminate women on the grounds of tradition. Sabarimala devotees find the SC verdict hard to accept as the practice of not allowing women inside the temple has been followed for centuries without a break. On Wednesday when the devotees were adamant to not allow women in menstrual age inside the temple, they attacked media persons who thronged to the city for covering the instances of women actually entering the temple in the aftermath of the SC verdict.
Looking at the protests by devotees who want the SC ruling to be scrapped by the government by an ordinance or a legislation, political parties have been extremely cautious in their reaction. Though they have not supported the protesting devotees openly, they have certainly thrown their weight behind them by opposing and protesting the SC ruling. They argue that the issue relates to the faith of the people, which should not be jeopardised in the name of giving women an equal right in the matter. Their arguments are no different from those of the devotees who do not want women of all ages to be allowed inside the temple. This clearly shows that the two of the most important political parties in the country do not want to antagonise the devotees. However, the Left Front government in Kerala is not on the same page as the two leading political parties.
India is a country with a rich historical and cultural heritage. Grand temples and religious places of other faiths with awe-inspiring architecture and centuries of traditions still draw a large number of devotees from all parts of the country. In a way, they define the essence of Indian life characterised by unflinching faith in the almighty, strict discipline and respect for traditions. The temples and other religious places have often come to be regarded as the conscience keeper of the society when it is difficult for people to see what is right and what is not. The traditions that they maintain in all their minute details teach us the value of continuity and consistency in personal and public life. These traditions have been sacrosanct for everybody, from the kings to the common man. In a way, these temples and other religious places have been the strength of the Indian society and the country. But sometimes, some of these traditions need to be seen in the right perspective and even replaced so as to make them more pragmatic to the present time. In today's world, when women are an equal partner to men in all walks of life, keeping them off from certain temples can be a great injustice to them. Looking at women from the sole perspective of gender and thinking that they are inferior or unholy can be a big mistake. Let's not forget the Khajuraho temple, whose walls openly depict and celebrate what has been otherwise a taboo in our social discourse. If the religion teaches us rigidity, it also teaches how we can seek emancipation, to which every woman has an equal right.