Sabarimala verdict: Beyond the question of menstruation

Last Updated: Wed, Oct 03, 2018 10:48 hrs

The Kerala state government is scrambling to make logistical arrangements for female devotees who they now expect will crowd the Sabarimala Temple.

Encouraged by politicians, the people who are against the entry of women of all ages into the shrine are gearing up to protest.

The Supreme Court’s verdict has sparked a political battle, with the state’s BJP blaming the CPI(M) for not making a strong enough case for the continuation of the ban, and encouraging the state government to bring in an ordinance to overrule the judgement, as Tamil Nadu did with the jallikattu ban. The state’s Congress has been encouraging the government to file a review petition in court.

Others are waiting for the next natural disaster, for which the entry of women into the holy shrine can be blamed.

But, for now, the verdict stands, passed by the highest court in the country – celibate or not, Lord Ayyappa will no longer be hidden from the eyes of women of menstruating age.

Now, the bans on the entry of women who are either of menstruating age or who are on their period at that particular time is an age-old practice, observed in many temples across India, particularly South India.

The science behind the custom is simple enough – in an era when sanitary pads and kitchen implements had not been invented, it made sense for women to be isolated during their period, both for purpose of hygiene and to spare them from the gruelling routine of daily chores. The woman of the house typically fetched water, cleaned the house, cooked, and did everything else that is now divided between machines and maids.

With sanitary care products available, hygiene is not a concern.

Most women lead fairly sedentary lives compared to their predecessors of a few decades ago, so sparing them “for their own good” is not relevant either.

However, the question of entry of women is not simply about menstruation. The period is essentially an indication of a woman’s capacity for child-bearing and therefore her readiness for sex.

While the professed argument is that the deity should not be besmirched by sharing space with nubile women, the reference is not so much to the deity as the devotees. These men have observed a period of abstinence before going to the shrine, and must therefore be shown the kindness of being spared sexual temptation while they are praying.

This problem is not limited to the ban on entry of women into temples. It extends to dress codes.

It is not limited to Hinduism either. The Islamic hijab or burkha, the garb of Hasidic Jews, the covering of the head imposed in gurdwaras and dargahs, the nuns’ habit, are all evidence of religions placing the onus on the “tempter” rather than the tempted.

While some have dress codes for men, including covering of their heads, they are far more strictly imposed on women. I have never seen a man being told off when his handkerchief slipped down in a dargah or gurdwara. Women often are.

It all goes back to the question of “What was she wearing?”

If the faithful have assembled with “pure” hearts, and abstinence from all thoughts of sex and sexual temptation is an essential aspect of their “purity”, why does it matter what clothes anyone else is wearing or not wearing?

BJP state president for Kerala, S Sreedharan Pillai, has announced that the party plans to launch state-wide agitation to “protect the interest of Sabarimala devotees”.

One would think the temple was under threat.

What is really under threat is the ability of the male devotees to control their libido.

In Indian mythology, the penance of kings and sages is often disturbed by apsaras. Apparently, it only takes the sound of anklets to disrupt a man’s connection with his god, even a man who has no thought of food or water or shelter.

What, then, will all those hordes of devotees do when as many apsaras could turn up, sanctioned by judiciary support?

Perhaps, on Gandhi Jayanti, which fortuitously follows soon after the Supreme Court’s verdict, the “faithful” should take a leaf out of the book written by the man who is often seen as the architect of India’s independence. Mahatma Gandhi recounts, in some detail, the story not only of his experiments with truth, but also with celibacy and temptation. Then, perhaps, they will learn to see the verdict as a test of their faith.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

Of Swachch Bharat and scavenging

LGBTQIA rights have a long way to go

V S Naipaul: The man the world loved to hate

The legacy of Karunanidhi

"Rapistan": There are no safe places

The "most dangerous country" poll should not make us defensive

The illusion of secularism

When hooliganism is state-sanctioned

Tarun Tejpal case: When the media plays jury

Karnataka: Death of democracy

India shining as ecosystems die?

Tamil Nadu: The land of the lawless

When death does not deter

Power play at a time of crisis

A country in denial

The gods have left the temples

What cricketers' reactions to ball-tampering show

Even Chhota Bheem knows our data was never private

No Confidence Motion: Why is the BJP nervous?

Do we really have the right to die with dignity?

Democracy has no place for mobs

The Sridevi South India lost 

Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

More from Sify: