Sabarimala: A Case of Gender Inequality or Period Shaming?

#HappyToBleed campaign in India brought in view the Sabarimala Temple, after a misogynist remark made by the new president of the Temple's governing board. A simple campaign that rose its roots from Gender Inequality, soon faced the brunt of Period Shaming.

Period Shaming Sabarimala

By Apeksha Pandita in General Legal

Oct. 26, 2018, 2:12 p.m.

  • 1198 Views

“How is it, that something normal for me is a disgrace to God?”
“How is it that something which is natural for me to go through every month, brings shame to God?”

“How is something which is in God’s control, offence to God?”

The recent debate on Sabarimala Temple is integral to us, not just because I’m a woman, but because a natural phenomenon seems to have become a botheration for religion & religious beliefs. Despite the westernized air hitting the city life hard, you will still find most Hindu temples posting the signs, where menstruating women are directed to stay away.

Being an Indian woman, I know that women are subjected to ill-treatment during their periods in certain parts of Rural India, but did you know that in Urban India as well, talking about periods is a taboo. Yes, a taboo. 

Something as natural as urination and excretion is TABOO in India. Unless it wasn’t, then the case of Sabarimala Temple would have not been so publicized. 

You must have read and heard a lot of stories about how it all started at the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. As the details go, this temple is dedicated to worshipping Hindu deity, Sri Ayyappan, a puritan and self-disciplined Sadhu who stayed away from any bodily desires. 

It has been maintained by the Temple Pujaris that men will only be allowed to enter the premises after they have gone through 41 days of ritual fasting and abstinence from sex, alcohol, and tobacco. A man has to become a Puritan himself, much like Sri Ayyappan, and since the last hundred years, menstruating women are also not allowed to enter the temple.

It’s not just Sabarimala, in fact, a lot of Hindu temples ask menstruating women to stay away. To point out, even the Kamakhya temple in Assam, which celebrates fertility and menstruation but the entry of women on their periods is not allowed.

myadvo-image-preview

This is another temple in Assam, Patbausi Satra, which happens to be so pure that it places all the burden of impurity on women. As usual, women are impure and the pujaris here say that, if a woman enters the premises of this temple then, the purity of the place will be damaged beyond repair.

There is a Jain Temple in Ranakpur as well, where menstruating women are banned from entering the temple as well. In fact, women who are not menstruating, even they have to adhere to a strict dress code in order to enter it.

Then there is a Kartikeya Temple in Pushkar, where women are banned to go in because they worship a celibate deity. This is what the priests there had to say and they also added, that there is a legend which goes like this: “If a woman enters the temple, then she will be cursed by the deity because women are ‘temptations’ for a Brahmachari.”

There are so many more places of worship that find a woman “impure”. If we keep citing each of them, then the list is never-ending. However, the women are facing injustice and insult in so many forms, since so many years. Everyone has been quiet about the “Temple Policies’ till now.

Then how did Sabarimala come in the spotlight?

Well, when the new president of the temple's governing board, Prayar Gopalakrishnan was asked by reporters about considering to lift the ban on women aged 10 to 50, his response was(well, you be the judge): “The day there will be a machine to detect if it's the 'right time' for women to enter temples, that day they will be allowed in Sabarimala.”

On hearing his remarks any woman would react and that’s what happened. A student activist, under the alias name, Nikita Azad wrote an open letter to Gopalakrishnan on the site, Youth Ki Awaaz questioning this discrimination against a natural, biological function. 

She wrote, “Aren't all the men who enter the temple product of the blood formed in their mothers' uteruses?” “You have decided that I should not bring my polluted blood inside the temple. But, which God gave somebody the right to choose what I do with my blood?”

Nikita Azad then posted a picture on Facebook with the hashtag #HappyToBleed, which quickly went viral. Women in India and around the world started using the hashtag and put sanitary napkins and tampons as their profile pictures on social media.

myadvo-image-preview

Indian History calls a Women on Periods “Impure” too?

Many anthropologists and historians have pointed out patriarchy as the emergence of menstrual taboos across cultures, especially for a nation like India, where patriarchy is supremacy.

In the name of religious beliefs, so many women have been shunned in the past. From being treated as untouchable, to sleep outside home on jute mats, made to eat food in different utensils, etc, there lingers a superstition that unfortunately is alive in many Indian societies and communities. (Well-shown in the movie, Pad-Man)

In an article published by NPR, an assistant professor of sociology at Mithibai College in Mumbai, Khevana Desai said, “Even in the oldest scriptures in Hinduism, the Vedas refer to menstrual blood euphemistically as Kusum (flower), Pushpa (blossom) and Jivarakta (the giver of life). The Laws of Manu, the ancient Hindu codes of governance, are fairly neutral about menstruation.” 

According to Desai, “A lot of cultures and religions have rigid rules around menstruation, she notes. In India, those who perpetuate the taboo sometimes give it a positive spin, saying it's a way to protect women. "The original idea may have been to give women a break because they used to do a lot of strenuous manual work — collecting water, harvesting grain.”

She added, “Most scholars agree that the idea that periods are impure likely sprang up in medieval times. The practice of shunning menstruating women was a way for upper-class male priests to protect their position at the top of the hierarchy.” 

On the contrary side, there is mention of the Indian myths about menstruation and impurity, which traces back to the Vedic period c. 1500–600 BCE as mentioned in an article published by SELF

On reading these references from the Rigveda and Vasishtha Dharmashastras, one can say, the origin of these taboos and stigmas still prevail in major parts of India.

Did you know?

According to a 2016 analysis conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), only One in Eight girls in their survey said, that they faced no restrictions at all during their periods. 

Published in the British Medical Journal, the analysis used data collected from 138 studies and more than 97,000 adolescent Indian girls between 2000 and 2015. In which 8 in 10 girls surveyed said, that they aren’t allowed to enter religious shrines when they are menstruating. 

myadvo-image-preview

While 5 in 10 girls said they were not allowed to touch people or food in the kitchen; and 2 in 10 said they were asked to sleep in a separate room. 

The analysis concluded that India needs more menstrual hygiene management (MHM) programs, widespread education, and awareness initiatives, and increased access to menstrual products.

Why is the Sabarimala Verdict again On trial?

Whence the Supreme Court announced its verdict by removing the ban on women between 10 and 50 years of age, which prevented them from entering Kerala's Sabarimala temple, Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice AM Khanwilkar, said that devotion can't be subject to gender discrimination.

Justices Rohinton F Nariman and Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud concurred with Misra and Khanwilkar, saying that “Religion can't be used as a cover to deny women the right to worship, and that to treat women as the children of a lesser God was to blink at the Constitution.”

Whereas Justice Indu Malhotra said, “It wasn't for courts to determine which religious practices should be struck down -- except in issues of social evil, like Sati. Issues which have a deep religious connotation, she said, shouldn't be tinkered with to maintain a secular atmosphere in the country.”

The Congress, being the Opposition party in Kerala, welcomed the verdict with the post:

myadvo-image-preview

After the Supreme Court ordered for the doors to be open for women, they were open on October 18, but then were again closed on October 22, 2018. Generating a protest against women's entry and in order to control the crowd, the police had to lathi-charge. 

The protests have exposed the ingrained obscurantism beneath the veneer of a progressive society and the cynical politics of religion that is at play. Coarse, violent language – unheard of in Kerala – is making the headlines as the BJP whips up a religious frenzy.

Now again, a review petition has been filed against the Supreme Court verdict. CPM-led, Left Democratic Front government file a review petition in the Supreme Court and also issue an ordinance to stop women of the restricted age group from going to Sabarimala.

myadvo-image-preview

All of a sudden, it’s about debunking the vishwasam or belief. 
Between the flood devastation and the Sabarimala dilemma, Kerala is indeed messed up!

Enough of Period-Shaming!

Period-shame is an embarrassment created by the current mindset of the Indian society, which promotes a self-hate when women menstruate and it’s somehow a topic after Sabarimala incident indicating that women’s bodies are not clean or tidy, and it’s definitely not something to be discussed by anyone.

In Hinduism, people worship goddesses, but when it comes to the actual women in their lives, they ban them from temples and kitchens, sometimes even their homes, during periods. 
The stigma on menstruation can be seen around the world, but it's most prominent in India. Just for this mere short time, a female is addressed to all kinds of insults and pressed to hear misogynist comments and considered culpable and impure. 

While asking for pads or tampons was already so embarrassing, now asking the right for praying in temples for the women and girls (menstruating or not) is an issue to be pondered so much. Really?

The insensitivity towards women has been downright shameful, but no one needs to talk about that. Rather, a woman on her periods, should not be allowed in kitchens or prayer rooms because their blood is contaminated and she is dirty and impure. Wow!

India is not oblivious to the country-wide problems surrounding menstruation, in fact, many initiatives have been seen like artists creating funny menstruation awareness cartoons, poets debunking the myths, movies like Pad-Man was made, digital campaigns and more. Even the government has started distributing free sanitary napkins in several states, along with creating awareness of the women’s health in rural states.

myadvo-image-preview

Well quoted by Feminism India, “If you ask the patriarchal system for the answer, then bleeding is shameful and not bleeding is a disgrace. Patriarchy wasn’t devised to enable women to win. The failure of women is patriarchy’s win.” 

Surprisingly, what the society never understood was that #HappyToBleed was never an “anti-temple campaign”, it was always about removing the polluted belief against menstruation and women in India.

At MyAdvo, we understand the voices of equality and we await the decision of the Supreme Court. We hope India will see them as equal citizens, instead of giving men and women every legal privilege. 

This is our take on the Sabarimala Case.
We’d like to hear your views on it, just let us know in the comments below. 
If you liked it much, make sure to give a thumbs up & share ahead with your family & friends!