Women and Freedom of worship

With the courts recently hearing many pleas on the ban on entry of women in various temples like Shani Shingnapur and Sabarimala of late, i could not help but write on this topic.

Shani Temple march foiled.

While the ban on women has been lifted in Shani Shingnapur, the plea on lifting the ban in Sabarimala is being heard in the Supreme court. It is believed that the Ayyappa deity is a Nityabrahmachari and it has been a custom to not allow women aged between 10–55 years as they will deviate the deity from his celibacy. Menstrual cycle and traditions are cited as reasons for this ban on women’s entry into the temple by the temple authorities. Another reason putforth is that women cannot undergo the physical hardship and days of celibacy like their male counterparts during their Deeksha. Women can offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa in other temples though.

Before coming to conclusions whether women should be allowed or not, one should examine the reasons behind the long followed traditions. Not one of the temple authorities can cite a logical answer to the question as to why this tradition has been put forward in the first place.

It is said that in olden days women used to undergo a lot of physical strain thanks to the daily chores so during their menstrual cycle they were asked to take adequate rest by not performing any of the daily duties. Slowly this has become a tradition and innocent minds starting as early as at the age of 10 are made to wonder as to why they are being treated as untouchables during their periods.

Menstruation is a natural process and if one were to believe that we are God’s creation then it is obvious that this menstrual cycle is also his creation, so why would God have a problem with his own creation? Also how come the same god allows women to worship him in some other temple but not in Sabarimala? This way aren’t the temple authorities restricting God into one idol, when the same people claim that God is omnipresent?

Coming to the reason cited that Lord Ayyappa doesn’t want to deviate from his celibacy through women’s entry into the temple. As quoted by Senior advocate Indira Jaising who is representing this case for lifting the ban “The onus of causing disturbance is on women. If you are a true celibate, why blame women disturbing you? This is a classical blaming-the-victim game.”

Before continuing the ban it is important for the temple authorities to establish the reasons behind the tradition being followed. Recently while discussing with my friend, he said that there were few temples/shrines being maintained by women even now and not by male priests. In earlier days men had been given the responsibility of maintaining the temples because it was believed that they could manage the public well. It is also said that some temple are so consecrated that they definitely do not want women to be there. It is not the question of superiority or inferiority, it is a question of suitability that was considered in the olden days. But as the times have changed, women have started to show their prowess in various fields so that does not hold good anymore. Also gone are the days where the journey to the temple was physically demanding in comparison. So the physical hardship criterion no longer holds good.

The onus is now on the Supreme Court to uphold equality and at the same time decide which would prevail : the right to worship of women or the long-standing tradition.

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