It looks like the Supreme Court will score a goal for women against at least one expression of centuries-old patriarchy and dogma. On Wednesday, the apex court—hearing a petition to strike down the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala—observed that the ban was “against the Constitutional mandate” and that women’s right to pray at the temple “is equal to that of a man and it is not dependent on a law” for women to be able to that.
The temple administration, on the other hand, has cited centuries-old practice and the founding principle of the temple being “naisthika bramhacharya” (disciplined & perennial celibacy) that involves ritually maintaining the temple’s “purity”. The fact is also that the temple administration’s rationale for the ban and the practice at the temple are contradictory.
Summarily banning women of a certain age, to prevent any menstruating women from “defiling” the temple reduces all the women of that age group to secondary, not just in the eyes of the divinity and clergy, but also the law, if it allows the practice to continue.
Besides, the obsession with purity stemming from celibacy has somehow missed the fact that sexually active male and female devotees are still permitted inside the temple. It is difficult to see from what the clergy and the temple administration derive the conviction that devotees permitted have come in with a “pure” mind. The 10-50-years qualification for the ban also is arbitrary because in some cases menarche may happen early and menopause may get delayed. Does the temple board truly believe that a 9-year-old will destabilise the sense of celibacy associated with the place.
The worst part of the ban is what it does for social attitudes towards menstruation, and sexuality. First, it ties the two together, while there is not even a tenuous connection between the two. Second, by treating menstruating women as impure themselves , it furthers age-old taboos and practices that have endangered women’s health. Third, it fosters an unhealthy attitude towards sexuality. It is time that the ban was struck down, as it was for the Haji Ali dargah. Faith shouldn’t clash with modernity, but adapt to it.