Why I don’t agree with the supreme court verdict on #Sabarimala temple

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?

I don’t.

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.

12 Replies to “Why I don’t agree with the supreme court verdict on #Sabarimala temple”

  1. Okay Lavanya, Here goes. First of all, I would like to state at the outset that I totally and absolutely disagree with you. I support the Supreme court verdict fully and wholeheartedly. Now let be give a rebuttal to each one of the points you have raised as the reason for your assertion that you do not agree with the supreme court.

    The Theological Perspective:

    Your statement:
    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.

    My rebuttal:
    This is just a belief and it cannot be taken into account when we are framing laws for the country as a whole. And for all you know, this might be a story that has been passed on over generations and may not have an iota of truth in it. It is probably as absurd as it sounds. Further, when a constitutional bench is trying to form a law it has to take into account only rock-solid evidence and not popular belief. There was a time when Sati was popularly believed to be a just and valid practice. Today we shudder to think of it. If the social reformers like Rajaram Mohan Roy had turned a blind eye stating that it is a belief and has to be followed, women would probably be getting burnt in funeral pyres today. Many a time in the History of the world, human beings have got caught in the rut of traditional and ridiculous beliefs and ended up stagnating for centuries. In the medieval times, the Church and the pope exerted enormous influence and what laid down the law for everyone including European monarchs. These were the dark ages of Europe. People used to believe in witches during those days. Women and young children were burnt in stakes because people believed they were witches. And last but not the least, belief is a matter of the mind. You may hold on to a certain belief steadfastly whereas to me it may not make sense. So when considering the questions of women’s entry into Sabarimala temple you cannot give a justification based on what people believe and have been believing for ages. Let us go one step further. Even if you give me evidence that Ayyappan was born of two males it still does not become a valid reason to keep women out 2500 years later just because some people genuinely believe that. As far as his being a bachelor is concerned and keeping women out of the temple for that reason is simply puerile. After all, he is a deity. And I don’t think he is going to refuse women darshan if women appear in front of him. I think being a god he is more likely to bless them and praise them for their perseverance.

    The cultural perspective:

    Your statement:
    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.

    My Rebuttal:
    As far as lifestyle changes are concerned there is absolutely no harm if women modify the preparations a little bit to suit them and their bodies. And a woman is as capable of keeping vrutham as a man. Personally, I really do not believe that all this ado for just visiting a temple is really necessary. But anyway these things are actually a matter of belief. If you feel you want to go through all these elaborate rituals you are free to. No one is going to stop you. But there is no need to force it down everybody’s throat. You may be a devotee and believe several things. But other people’s faith may not be so complicated. Their faith may be a lot simpler and they may feel there is no need to prove their devotion to the deity by such austere and elaborate means. And as far the perils involved in going to the temple is concerned there is absolutely no danger nowadays. It is very easy nowadays. Buses and trains are available and it is easy enough for a woman to go to the temple. There is absolutely no peril or danger. My father has been to the Sabarimalai twice. Now it is extremely safe and there is absolutely nothing difficult. So no need to worry about trekking across dangerous forests.

    The Legal Perspective

    Your Statement:
    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 forever 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.

    My Rebuttal:

    The supreme court is not telling you to believe or disbelieve in anything. You are free to believe in anything you feel like. But unfortunately, by preventing women from entering a temple you are infringing on other people’s fundamental rights. And that is the reason people have to go to court. When people go to court they do so because they feel someone has wronged them. Maybe you don’t want to enter Sabarimala temple and feel that women should not be allowed to do so. But there are scores of women across the country who genuinely believe they are being robbed of their rights. So when they go to the Supreme court what do you expect the court to say? Everything is fine because men and women like you believe something. Yours may be a strong and powerful belief but you still do not have the right to impose it on others. If some women do not want to go to the temple because they genuinely believe they are impure when they menstruate it is their problem and the need not go to the temple. But telling all women not to enter a temple based on the beliefs of a few sections of society is ridiculous. I am really surprised you gave this argument.

    Maybe my words are harsh. But I really do feel strongly in this matter. Do forgive me if I have said anything that is hurtful. Thank you so much. Jai
    Sitharaam Jayakumar recently posted…The Cobbler’s Love – FFfAW Challenge – 187thMy Profile

  2. Nicely articulated. Yes, it’s not about why gender or discrimination. Infact, you have all caste and religion people visit here and rub shoulders to shoulders. KJ.Jesudas is a good example.

  3. Hi Jai. First of all, I think you misunderstood the purpose of my article a bit. I am NOT saying that women should or shouldn’t enter into a temple. My point is that the Supreme Court shouldn’t be telling us what to do in a religious place.

    You are correct in pointing out that the story of Swami Ayappa is just that, a folk lore. But let’s not get carried away here. The whole point of visiting a religious place is for religious reasons. It’s not a vacation spot. My point once again is not that women shouldn’t enter or should enter the temple. But I think that should come as a part of social evolution and as a part of faith/religious evolution as well instead of the Supreme Court forcing something down our throats on a purely religious matter.

    Your citation of Sati isn’t comparable here. Women’s lives were at risk because of that practice. WHICH is not the case here. I would also point out here that even in the case of Sati, social evolution is what put a stop to the practice!

    You may have missed the point I made about Haji Ali Dargah where the Bombay High Court gave a judgement contrary to what the Supreme Court has done just now. Please also read up my points on the Kamyaka temple.

    Thanks as always for reading and commenting.

    1. There is only one thing I have to say. A court has a right to adjudicate on something when someone’s rights are being infringed upon. Some people went to the court with their grievances. And you see the problem here is some people’s consttitutional rights have been violated. And the court is the guardian of the constitution. And here a law is clearly being broken in the name of religious belief which is why the court has to make a ruling. There may be a case as you pointed out when a high court ruled against the supreme court. Granted. But the persons involved can still approach the supreme court. So saying that the court does not have the right to pass judgement and it has to evolve through society is incorrect. You decide on what pujas you do in sabarimala. Decide on what mantras have to be read. Who will be the pujari. These are the things that can perhaps be decided by society. But in a democracy everyone has a right to pray and enter temples. That is the liberty of every citizen of India. Certain things have to be decided by the court.

      1. Jai, once again, let me reiterate. I am not expressing an opinion on whether women should enter or not. There is also a constitutional right to religion. This case is an interesting hodgepodge of what will happen when two fundamental rights are in conflict. All religions have their own quirks as I pointed out in my article. Let’s just agree to disagree here.

        Good discussion.

  4. This is a very complex issue with many perspectives. I wouldn’t compare it with sati because no one is being physically harmed or even being prevented from worshiping in general. It is a very specific case and for a very limited time.

    None the less it is discrimination because the people who are not allowed to attend cant in any way change themselves to meet the criterion of attendance. it is not a question of working hard, or learning something. Your gender is what you are born with.

    But then discrimination is often practiced and sometimes it is not bad. For example when a woman prefers to go to a female gynaecologist, it is a question of her comfort. Does that make her sexist? Of course not. So can this god, or those who speak for him, choose his visitors? Perhaps.

    But you must also remember the big picture. This issue does not stand alone but in the backdrop of oppressive history and the modern feminist movement in India which is finally growing out of it’s infancy. Widows and menstruating women are often shut out of religious practices just as a way of making them feel unclean, inferior or worthless. This undermines the confidence of women as a whole in society. At this time in India feminism is gaining momentum. It needs all the support it can get. Women are beginning to find their voices.

    Under these circumstances what should the supreme court do in a complex and dubious issue that has some before it to pass judgment on? Lend it’s support to the voices of women that have been quelled for centuries or crush their spirit when it is just daring to raise itself? I don’t say it is cut and dry, but one must see the whole picture before coming down on this one way or another.

    Religions are to be allowed to practice their rituals and adhere to their rituals unless their practices are harmful in someway to society or individuals or oppressed classes and that’s where the courts step in. But this harm is not always clear and what extent of harm qualifies for interference from courts is not clear either. But perhaps the supreme courts think it is time feminism is encouraged in India so women can feel more confident.

    Disclaimer: Not being particularly religious myself I don’t fully internalize the religious point of view either of the women who want to go there or of the people who want to stop them. Like if you believe in this god what does that exactly mean? Do you believe in and approve of all the customs of the temple? If you do then why do you want to violate them? If you don’t, then why are you interested in going to the temple at all? Or is there some conflicting interpretations of the rules and customs? Or can you believe in the god without agreeing with the rules of the temple? Don’t know much about these things.
    Kanika G recently posted…Chip TrailsMy Profile

    1. Kanika, my comparison to Sati may sound like going too far but the essential principle behind that and the Sabarimala issue is the same which is tradition and popular opinion. And someone had to act against it. So what I am saying is something does not become right because it is traditional. That is the reason for my bringing Sati into the picture. Sound harsh but tgere it is.
      Sitharaam Jayakumar recently posted…I Feed An Old Man – Friday FictioneersMy Profile

    2. I think we both are kinda saying the same things. The point is where does the distinction between religious faith and women’s rights begin. As usual, you have excellently summed up the issue.

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