Tuesday, 9 February 2016

AGONIZED GODDESSES: A CALL FOR JUSTICE


Goddess! A female deity whose supernatural powers are worshipped with grandeur and yet her sanity; purity often doubted. We worship the goddess in our women but our women shall not worship our gods, not always!

Women and their right to worship is indeed becoming a serious matter. The ban on entry of women in Shani Shinganapur temple, Haji Ali Dargah and Sabarimala temple is causing a stir. These prohibitions and their implications are shouting out for judicial intervention.

Sabarimala case is a recent example of the status of Indian women in modern society and the role of judicial system in delivering justice to them. Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre in Kerala for men of all ages, caste and creed. However, females of menstrual age are prohibited entry to the temple because of the story of Ayappa, a celibate and historical figure. According to the folklore, Ayappa was born to destroy Mahishi - a female demon who could only be vanquished by a child born of both Shiva and Vishnu. She had been cursed to live as a demon, but her killing reversed the curse. When released from curse, Mahishi asked Ayappa to marry her. He refused the proposal stating that his mission is to go to Sabarimala where he would answer his devotees’ prayers. However, he assured that he shall marry her when devotees stop coming to Sabarimala. Since then the temple has hundreds of devotees gathered, except young women.

The reason for prohibiting women of menstrual age is unclear.  Popular notion says that young women may be a distraction for Ayappa, while another theory points out women’s sympathy towards Mahishi’s long wait for Ayappa. While the reasons remain uncertain, somewhere, somehow, the concept of menstruation or being unclean has always been used under the garb of ‘religious grounds.’  


Article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.

Considering equality as a right of every individual, regardless of gender, race, caste creed and sex; Naushad Ahmed Khan, President of Indian Young Lawyers' Association (IYLA) filed the PIL on Sabarimala issue. Many religious institutions have opposed the PIL. However, in its recent order a Supreme Court bench observed “It is our view that the temple cannot prohibit entry except on the basis of religion. Unless you have a constitutional right, you cannot prohibit entry.”

Can menstruation be a religious ground? Indian courts have a tough call to take.

While the detailed hearing and the decision of the Apex court in this matter is awaited, we only hope that ‘new doors of – access, justice and equality’ are opened up for women.