News Analysis |
The Indian Supreme Court observed that the right of prayer for women was as equal as that of men during its hearing of the 30-year-old Sabarimala temple case. The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard the controversial ban of entry to woman aged between 10 years and 50 years at the Hindu temple in Kerala.
In its first preliminary observations on a rule barring women from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala due to biological reasons, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said women have the constitutional right of equal access to public places of worship to pray. Any rule that stood in their way would be against this right, the apex court said.
A five-judge bench, led by CJI Dipak Misra, is hearing petitions demanding an end to this discriminatory practice which the temple management claims is essential to the religious practice of the followers of Lord Ayappa. The management is yet to present its arguments before the five-judge bench.
The now resurgent Hindutva ideology feeds itself on such sentiments and pushes for a docile wife subservient to a patriarchal system. Career-oriented women are discouraged and deemed to be the opposite of good mothers and wives.
Kerala’s Sabarimala temple in south-central Pathanamthitta district is a famous hill-shrine that doesn’t traditionally permit the entry of women of menstruating age. In the past three decades, this custom has evoked random resistance and protest from various segments of society as well as a long legal struggle.
This is the second round of litigation in which an association, comprising young lawyers, is seeking this right for women on the grounds of gender equality guaranteed under the Constitution. The government of Kerala made its stand clear in court on Wednesday through senior advocate Jaideep Gupta. Senior advocate Indira Jaising argued that the right to religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution spoke only of “persons” and protects individuals and not institutions or temples.
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However, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM)-controlled Travancore Devasom Board which administers the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala on Thursday contradicted the stand of the CPM-led state government that age restrictions on entry of women to the temple should be lifted.
Appearing for the board, senior advocate Abhishek Sighvi tried to use religious edicts as a reason for the ban and stated that the restriction was only in Sabarimala due to the special nature of the installation “which is supposed to depict “naishtika brahmacharya” (perennial celibacy)”. He explained that the pilgrimage to the hill shrine follows a 41-day rigorous ‘vrat’ (penance) period during which the pilgrims prepare themselves for the climb through dense forests. The shrine is located deep inside forests in the Western Ghats. He further told that there were thousands of temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa but the restriction was only in Sabarimala.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said women have the constitutional right of equal access to public places of worship to pray. Any rule that stood in their way would be against this right, the apex court said.
The word Brahmacharya actually translates as ‘behaviour which leads to Brahman’. Brahman is identified as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism and Yogic theology, and brahmacharya is the behavior which leads the practitioner towards ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power’. Traditionally, ‘Brahmacharya’ was meant to encourage those involved in the practice of yoga to conserve their sexual energy, in favour of using that energy to further progress along the Yogic path.
The hearing also witnessed sharp exchanges with senior advocate K Parasharan telling the bench that it should not try to “change the character” of the deity and the CJI observing that the 41-day penance was “imposed” to make it “impossible” for women to visit the shrine.
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“If you are saying the deity is not a naishtika brahmachari, you are changing its character. You cannot change the character of God,” Parasaran, appearing for the Nair Service Society, representing the Hindu Nair community, told the CJI when prodded for a philosophical explanation to the scenario.
The shrine is located deep inside forests in the Western Ghats. He further told that there were thousands of temples dedicated to Lord Ayyappa but the restriction was only in Sabarimala.
CJI Misra countered, “You are imposing it. You put 41-days so that a woman can’t go. It is imposition of an impossible condition…What you can’t do in law, you do it indirectly.” There has been a constant debate over the status of women in India specifically in the backdrop of the rise of Hindutva. While Indian women enjoy some freedoms mostly in the urbanized areas, they also face constant roadblocks throughout the country often reinforced by traditional customs.
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Analysts assert that such traditions arise from historical misogyny and patriarchy. The now resurgent Hindutva ideology feeds itself on such sentiments and pushes for a docile wife subservient to a patriarchal system. Career-oriented women are discouraged and deemed to be the opposite of good mothers and wives. This is apparent from the statement of the RSS chief that the duty of the woman is to look after her husband, failing which he can disown her and refuse to take care of her.