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Why Sabarimala is not a case of gender discrimination

Sabarimala, the Hindu pilgrimage temple located in the Western Ghats was at the center of controversy in recent times. Liberal forces from all sides tried to disrupt traditions with modern tools of activism and sought judicial intervention.Sai Deepak,

Sai Deepak, an engineer turned litigator is at the front end to fight it out with the rivals. Here at Srijan Foundation, we had the opportunity to arrange and host a talk by J. Sai Deepak on the topic-Freeing Hindu Temples from government control.

Here is Sai answering the question on Sabarimala.

Sabarimala and what you don’t know about it.

Please understand, Sabarimala is not a question of gender, it’s not a question of culture, it’s not a question of fashion, it’s not a question of misogyny. It’s a question of certain traditions which has its origins, which have been contorted and distorted and played out in a very different light in public domain. Every person who talks on this particular issue, I just want to ask him one question, him or her or her or him, whichever order you may like.

“What do u know about the origins of this practice and the reasons for the existence for the practice and the scriptural base for the practice for you to arrive at the conclusion that this is a consequence of gender inequality. You have thrown the conclusion out first, I would want u to retrace your steps and tell me what is it that you know about this practice in order for you to arrive at this supposedly informed conclusion that is based on misogyny.”

I had the opportunity to speak on this issue on NDTV which I think is the kind of forum it should be spoken on.

There are different kinds of practices particularly in Kerala where there are certain spaces exclusively for males, others exclusively for females and certain spaces which are meant for everyone. You want diversity to be protected, then please protect these diverse traditions as well. There are Temples where men dare not enter and particular days when streets are vacated of men; men can’t even step in those streets because it’s meant for women to pray in a manner they want to pray.

There are deities which are specifically meant only for females.

We have to understand if we want to have this discussion, this discussion Can’t start unless and until  we take a look at the basis which is the tradition. What is tradition? Every temple has traditions with respect to mythology it subscribes to, the history it subscribes to, from where the traditions flow.

In this case, the deity of Sabrimala, Lord Ayyapapa has taken on himself the vow of Naistik Brahmcharya which means Eternal Bahmcharya. Naistik Brahmcharya is equally a tradition which is observed by a lot of Sadhus, who are not meant to come in touch with women at all and this is not based on misogyny. There could be reciprocal rules with respect to women and their contact with men. It’s not something entirely directed at women based on discrimination, this is the worst possible myth that the spinmasters have brought in the public domain. The rules of the school require that you don’t and can’t come in contact with women who still have reproductive capabilities.  Now, they have twisted this entire argument to say that this is based on your hatred for or your stigma based on menstruation.

There are temples in this country which worship the physical process of menstruation. The Kamakhya temple, who doesn’t know this? Therefore using one particular instance and that too with truncated knowledge of history of the temple to brand the entire institution and use it as a launch pad for branding the entire community, I think needs to stop.

As part of their analysis, the Law requires the SC two things. (I have written specifically on this issue, that’s why I say this. And please don’t bring caste and gender in every issue). The SC said; citing 365 of the constitution, with respect to the appointment of priests in Madari Meenakshi temple,  saying that, respect the agamas scriptures that apply to a temple as long as they are not negatively discriminatory. What it means is that you are entitled to select a few people, on positive attributes but if u say this person of this caste shall not enter a place; that tradition has no business being in modern India or in a constitutional India, I am with you. If it says, no woman can enter a particular place you are right. But in this case, it has qualified that position, it has given an age group, it follows a certain tradition which is based on certain aspects which most people will believe in or they do but won’t want to say that they believe in.

Do we know the traditions of Devaprashnaa which is actually followed in Sabarimala?

This tradition says that the chief priest is supposed to have a dialogue with the deity, and people are selected based on several considerations, like horoscope and what not and whatever he conveys as the will of deity is implemented.

Now, I have a question to ask.

Have u seen that popular video on YouTube, where in a certain mosque, they are throwing children right from top and somebody is actually catching them at the bottom. This continues till date. This happens! Nobody questions that.

The reaction in Haji Ali case was that we don’t want to get into this because it is a religious issue.

It has been implemented why? The Statement made by board at Haji Ali is that it is a sin to come in touch or even the proximity of Mosque and Dargah because it is impure.That is the statement that they made. Ask one representative of the TDB/Travancore Devaswom board to make this statement, they will not make this statement because that is not the truth. That is the point!

Here you have instance where somebody is saying that women are positively dirty and them entering that place of worship is wrong and it defiles the place. Never has such a statement been made in court with respect to the Lord Ayyappa temple.

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