After a two-decade-long legal battle and years of debates, discussions, and fierce disapproval, the Supreme Court on Friday allowed women’s entry into Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple, lifting the decades-long ban on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 into the temple. The Court ruled that all restrictions concerning women’s entry into the temple are unconstitutional and a violation of their rights and also went onto say that faith cannot be put above people, their gender notwithstanding.
The ban has legally been in place since 1991, after a Kerala High Court ruling, in which the Court said, “customs must be followed”. The practice is said to have started sometime in the 1950s, with no proof to believe it ever existed anytime before that. This restriction is attributed to the legend that has it that the deity residing in Sabarimala had vowed celibacy and to keep this vow he insists that women of menstrual age not visit him.
With the landmark decision the Supreme Court finally repealed this deeply problematic and patriarchal 28-year long ban, and with this, made a much-needed statement about culture being weaponised to keep women and their existence severely restricted by keeping them bound to patriarchal notions about gender roles and the varying value of each gender. Unfortunately, to forbid women the rights that are guaranteed to them, in the name of religion, tradition, and culture has been a practice that has gone on too long.
We need to remember that our faith, our notions, our beliefs, none of that can triumph over the rights of other people.
We need to remember that our faith, our notions, our beliefs, none of that can triumph over the rights of other people. We cannot ask that others be starved of their rights, only to implement our beliefs. The weaker sections of a society are those who are afforded positions of little to no value within a culture’s social hierarchy. Their rights are under a constant threat of being violated by the imposition of the beliefs of those who are afforded positions of greater value within a culture – in this case, the rights of women have been taken away based off the patriarchal beliefs that men have held.
Although undoubtedly the first and largest step to ensure the entry of women into a place of worship they desire to visit, the Sabarimala issue doesn’t end here. Women are now legally allowed entry into the temple, but that still begs two questions. Will measures to ensure their safety be employed? Can women visit the temple without being subjected to jibes, discrimination, and violence at the hands of the many other people who visit it and may not welcome the move to allow women entry?
Also read: On Feminism, Religion And Right To Worship
In a place as crowded as Sabarimala, the effective presence of law enforcement personnel and other safety measures are pertinent to keep women from being subjected to sexual harassment. The massive crowds act in favour of the perpetrators by affording them anonymity and reducing the risk of being caught, thus giving rise to increased instances of sexual harassment. The instances of sexual harassment during Holi bear testimony to this. Sexual harassment during Holi has long been an issue, owing to how easily perpetrators can mask their identity in a large crowd. Thus, to ensure that women can visit Sabarimala without fear or reluctance, it is essential that added measures to prevent and address sexual harassment or any other form of sexual violence be employed.
The verdict has been received with furore and indignation and there are very real chances of this being directed towards the women who decide to visit the temple.
Apart from this, the possibility of ill-treatment from those who disagree with the verdict is a very real threat to all women visiting the temple. The verdict has been received with furore and indignation, and the very real chance of this being directed towards the women who decide to visit the temple, thus deviating from what has been the cultural norm all these years, does exist. Although the presence of law enforcement personnel can significantly downplay the threat, the only guarantee of women not being subjected to his misdirected anger will come from a cultural shift in our perception of women and their right to engage in every aspect of public life as they please.
Though women can no longer be legally restricted from entering the temple, it remains to be seen if those who are opposing the move, which includes a large part of Sabarimala’s board, will employ other hurdles to forbid the entry of women. Legal entry alone won’t change much, for the verdict to have any bearing, it is crucial that we accommodate the women who desire to visit Sabarimala, and incorporate them and their needs to create a safe environment which belongs to them as much as it does to men.
That said, this ruling is still pertinent to the cause of women, not just to individual women who want to exercise their right to visit Sabarimala. With the scrapping of Section 377, repealing of the sexist adultery law that commodified women and treated them as the possessions of the men they are married to, and now this, the Supreme Court’s decisions in the last month have set the stage for a possibly linear progression towards an equal, just, and non-patriarchal society.
We are finally beginning to draw up lines dividing the state, religion, and culture. The Supreme Court’s landmark judgements this month all bear testimony to this. We are finally putting an end to religion and culture meddling in state affairs and legislature, which in turn can have disastrous consequences for numerous individuals and communities, and can disallow them the most basic of rights.
It cannot be reiterated enough that women and their rights come above every tradition and any religious or cultural belief. The verdict does not violate the rights of the deity, like most claim, because a deity carved in stone isn’t afforded any rights, but women are, and restricting their entry into the Sabarimala is certainly a violation of their rights, and by claiming their rights should continue to be violated for some belief, we diminish their personhood.
Do religious or cultural sentiments, most of which are borne out of long-existing patriarchal ideas regarding women and their place in public life, hold more bearing that the rights of women? They do not, and maybe this verdict will prove to be a constant reminder that the violation of women’s right in the name of culture is only an attempt to weaponise culture and use it to push women as far away as possible from public life, be it stating biological reasons or even legend.
Featured Image Source: Times Now