At a time and age when thrust on human rights and equality are the utmost criterion for the holistic growth and advancement of the human race as a whole, it is hard to believe that the fairer sex is still discriminated upon on grounds of something that is viewed only as ‘divine intervention’. Yet, there exists such stark inequity in terms of the basic rights of existence that it becomes hard to believe at times that the 21st century world can indeed be so (naively) prejudiced.
As two middle aged women in their 40s made an attempt to tread into the sanctity of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, what emerged is an eruption of violence and a paradoxical breach of rights. What should have been no any issue of contention erupted to be quite a decisive matter, commanding the urgent attention of the nation at hand.
Right to worship, as like the right to freedom of expression is a basic human right and indeed in our country, it also counts as an integral part of the right of every citizen. So what now has become an issue of debate and strife should actually have been an assertion of the right to live at one’s free will.
However, this is not to be. For a country obsessed with the purity of the human body rather than the virtues of the soul, it is no wonder that offences are taken at every possible instance. Menstruation, in particular, is such a taboo in our society that even public speaking on the issue proves very often to be a matter of disdain. How then can religious purists be expected to allow menstruating woman within the premises of a shrine as holy as the God it guards within?
That’s exactly what religious fanaticism in our country exhibits. A complete intolerance towards something that might render impure the holiness of the God Himself. Not to forget that the impurity is sought to be brought about by something that is as much a biological process as metabolism or for that matter any other? Is it because there is something ‘unhygienic’ about bleeding five days a week every month or does it have everything to do with the fact that the ‘subject’ under consideration are the lesser privileged lot of the human race?
It isn’t only the Sabarimala shrine that discriminates against women while grant entry within its holy premises. The shrine does not even categorically bars all females from offering their prayers to the deity. Only women in the age group of 10 to 50 years- the most ‘vulnerable’ age bracket to be menstruating-are not allowed to exercise their right to worship and pray at their own free will.
The Lord Kartikeya Temple in Pushkar, the Patbausi Satra in Assam, the Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi, the Hazratbal Mosque in Srinagar, the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram are all religious places that seriously over rules the right to equality and freedom. And while you might feel that what we are presenting is all too dramatized given that all your life you have probably been accustomed to such discrimination (in the name of rituals), it’s a matter of grave despondency that the belief in the Supreme Authority which seeks to unite us all is at the fore of our status as lesser humans.
However, if you want to see the rosy side of the picture, you wouldn’t be totally disappointed. Our own state of Assam is home to the Kamakhya temple, the worshipping place of the Goddess Kamakhya which celebrates the fruition in menstruation. The Ambubachi Mela is an annual fixture in this resting place of the consort of Lord Shiva. This festival that celebrates the menstrual period of the Goddess presents as a huge carnival, one that draws devotees and revellers from different parts of the country and even from abroad.
Interestingly, at the Kamakhya temple, there is no idol to worship except a stone structure of Kamakhya Devi’s yoni (vagina). All this seems very liberating and privileged, as you prune and pause to dwell on how this can be possible in the same land that views the bleeding phenomena as something to shy away from. But this indeed is the reality. In this land of multiple farces and ironies, a women attaining her puberty is a celebratory occasion; however, soon after the rendezvous is over, the same female body that had been celebrated for attaining the ability to reproduce is deemed impure during the time she is menstruating.
Indeed then, the Ambubachi Festival which celebrates a menstruating lady, albeit the Goddess, is a definite matter of rejoice. An instance of triumph- this acceptance of menstruation as normal and not as a taboo defining women. But herein lies the irony- even in this place on earth where the heavens intervene to bring justice to woman folk, the dominance of mankind is still predominant. Because even within the festivities that rule the Ambubachi Mela, the issue at hand remains the same- menstruating women are still not allowed access to the shrine.
Whether this is pure prejudice or a manifestation of what blinds people in the name of rituals- the cycle is vicious. Probably then, it isn’t menstruating women that should be the basis of exclusion but the filth that rules the progressive minds that should be an issue to be condemned. And till the day this becomes a reality, perhaps we are better off as atheists. Perhaps not so moral but definitely not hypocrites.