I can understand.
The Supreme Court of India has done what it always have. Reaffirmed that the law doesn’t distinguish between genders, castes, the classes and the masses. The women right activists and the NCW continue with their admirable zeal of promoting women rights in patriarchal society known for its gender discrimination in the everyday life. With the arrival of the #Metoo movement in India, more and more women have started standing up for their rights and to right the wrongs done to them by the society.
Yet, the recent Supreme Court judgement on allowing women into the #Sabarimala temple isn’t a step in the right direction for either women’s empowerment or for religious freedom in the country. Here’s why:
The theological perspective:
A distinction needs to be made between the rational, fact based arguments and faith based, belief systems in the country. The #Sabarimala temple is a centuries’ old monument to the teeming faith of millions of Indians. The core identity of the god is him being the impossible son of two male gods and the devotees embrace their Swami as an eternal bachelor, a facet that is a part of their primary faith system.
Instead of viewing this as discrimination against women (similar to the discrimination against Dalits in the early 19th century), it’s important to note the folklore and customs that led to creation of the #Sabarimala temple in the first place.
Many faith based systems around the world limit the participation of women (and in certain cases the men) in their rituals and in their hierarchy.
The Pope of the Catholic Church and all the cardinals are always men.
Women aren’t allowed in the Haji Ali Dargah. The Bombay High Court accepted the argument of the trustees that “Entry of women in close proximity of grave of a male Muslim saint is a grievous sin in Islam”.
The Jain temple in Ranakpur doesn’t allow entry to women for similar reasons as the #Sabarimala temple.
Did you know that men are forbidden in the Kamyakha Peetham in Vishakapatnam for a few days every month when the goddess is believed to be menstruating? The temple of the same goddess in Guwahati bans men altogether.
The cultural perspective:
The #Sabarimala temple is a cultural behemoth in a country that is divided by umpteen castes, religions and religious practices. The 41 day vrutham (fast), the perilious journey across the forests & their wildlife and the Nithya pooja as well the archanais, abhishekams are a necessary part of the lives of many devotees. The lifestyle changes that is required for regular #Sabarimala visitors and the impact of these changes on their socio-psychological profile is immense. Millions of devotees undertake the #Sabarimala trek every year and thousands undertake the journey more than once.
The Legal Perspective:
The constitution of India grants religious freedom to all the citizens of the country. Do we want the courts, even if it be the Supreme court of India, to officiate as the final theological authority in the country?
The justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of various other courts are experts in jurisprudence and the final arbiter for many points of law but I do not want them to tell me what to believe and how to believe when it comes to matters of religion and faith.
This is not to say that archaic practices in ancient Hindu temples (I don’t count the Sabarimala temple among them) should continue for ever more but that is for the society and the religious leaders to debate, discuss and bring about the change.
In this case, the final arbiter should be the trustees of the Sabarimala temple and not the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court would do well to remember the example of the Bombay High Court in the Haji Ali Shrine and follow suit.