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Sabarimala Temple Entry Issue – Opinion of Sai Deepak

J. Sai Deepak delivered a talk at the Press Club of India. The talk was organized by the Srijan Foundation on the topic: Freeing Hindu temples from government control.

Here is part of the talk where Sai Deepak Ji explain the Sabarimala issue regarding the entry of Young Woman.

And I have to answer the question of Sabarimala because that’s the worst possible example you could have given. I’m sorry I won’t hold back my punches at this point. Please understand, Sabarimala is not a question of culture, it’s not a question of gender, it’s not a question of fashion, it’s not a question of misogyny; it’s a question of a certain tradition, which has origins, which have been contorted, 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 in that order. Please tell me what do you know about the origins of the practice and the reasons for the existence of the practice and the scriptural basis for that practice, for you to arrive at this peremptory conclusion, that this is a consequence of gender inequality. You have thrown the conclusion out first. I would want you to retrace your steps and tell me, what is it that you know about the practice, in order for you to have arrived at that supposedly informed conclusion that is based on misogyny.

Okay. I will do this because I’ve had the opportunity to speak on this on ndtv, which is, I think, the forum on which it should be spoken on, and I’ll answer the question.

There are two kinds of practices particularly in Kerala, where there are certain spaces which are exclusive for females, and certain spaces which are exclusive for males, and certain spaces which are meant for everyone. You want a diversity be protected, then please protect these diverse traditions as well. There are temples, where men dare not enter, and particularly days where streets are vacated of the men. Men can’t even step into those streets because it’s meant for women to pray in a manner they want to pray. There are deities, which specifically are meant only for females, this is one thing. Two, we have to understand that if you want to have this discussion, this discussion cannot start unless and until we take a look at the basis, which is the tradition, and what is the tradition? Every temple has a tradition with respect to the mythology it subscribes to, the history that it subscribes to, from where the tradition flows. In this case the deity of Sabarimala, Lord Ayyappa has taken up on himself, at least that is the belief, the vow of ‘naistika brahmacharya’, which means eternal brahmacarya. Naistika brahmacharya 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 the reciprocal rules with respect to women and their contact with men. It’s not something that is entirely directed at women based on discrimination. This is the worst possible myth that somehow these people, the spin masters, have managed to put it out in public domain. The rules of that school of thought require that you do not come in contact with women who still have reproductive capabilities. Now they have twisted this entire argument and since we are all adults here I’ll have to make this point, twisted this entire argument to say, this is based on your hatred of or your stigma associated with menstruation. The argument has gone to that level.

There are temples in this country which worshipped 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 the history of the particular temple, to brand the entire institution and use it as the launch pad for branding the entire community. I think needs to stop. This is the factual answer; I have not brought an emotion here.

Second, as part of their analysis, the law requires the Supreme Court to do two things and I have written specifically on the Sabarimala issue, which is why I was called on the debate, because I specifically said, please don’t bring cast and feminism in every discussion, because not everything is related to that, there are some things which are dehors that. The Supreme Court has said, and this is citing article 165 of the Constitution, with respect to appointment of priests in the Madurai Meenakshi temple, saying that, respect the ‘Agama’ or the 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 in terms of ingress and egress, on positive attributes. But if you say this person of this caste shall not enter this particular place, that tradition has no business being in modern India, in constitutional India. I am with you, and if it says no woman can enter the particular place you are right. But it has qualified the position, it has given an age group, and it follows a certain tradition which is based on certain aspects which most people may not even believe in, or even if they believe and they would not want to say that they believe in it. Do you know the tradition of ‘Devaprasna’, which is actually followed in Sabarimala? The tradition is that the chief priest is supposed to be having a dialogue with the deity and people are selected based on several considerations right from horoscope, and what not, just how Shankaracharya is actually selected for different mutts, and on the basis of that tradition, whatever he conveys as the will of the deity is implemented.

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