Women in Sabrimala's Temple - Seeker's Thoughts

Recent Posts

Seeker's Thoughts

A blog for the curious and the creative.

Women in Sabrimala's Temple

Women in Sabarimala's Temple: Controversy and Human Rights

Case has become an incontestable battleground of women's rights, religious conviction, and state power in India. Since the Supreme Court lifted their ban last month, two women have reached Sabarimala's main temple complex successfully.

Like many of her fellow defiers, Bindu Ammini wasn't initially planning to go against the ban, but her experience has taught her invaluable lessons.

1. Equality and Non-Discrimination

The decision to allow women into temples was an impressive victory for gender equality in India, sparking considerable conversation about religious freedom, sexuality, and women's rights. This ruling underscores the necessity of striking a balance between religious autonomy and gender equality while acknowledging changing social norms and traditions over time; while also underscoring courts' role in upholding constitutional principles.

The Supreme Court's ruling was grounded on fundamental rights to equality and non-discrimination, specifically those related to gender-based discrimination. 

They determined that custom of barring entry to women of menstruating age violated these rights because it constitutes biologically based discrimination on account of being female - infringing against constitutional principles such as Article 14 (equality before law), 15 (nondiscrimination), 17 (outlawing untouchability). Furthermore, this exclusionary practice did not qualify as essential religious practice because of being arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory against women.

According to the court, the temple's rules and practices were not supported by scripture or tradition but by perception that women of menstruating age are impure, reflecting a deeply-held belief in menstruation as an "heathen curse" which renders women impure and unclean; something incompatible with Indian values of secularism and gender equality.

Although the Supreme Court ruling was an important victory for women's rights, its impact did not change the minds of many women and Hindus who oppose women entering temples. Following its order, women organized protests across Kerala that culminated with an unshakable human chain stretching miles long; even with threats of arrests being issued against protesters they continued their fight to worship freely without hindrance from any government body.

Police were faced with the challenging task of upholding the verdict while maintaining public safety and protecting women's wellbeing. While they defended their actions as impartial and following Supreme Court rules, many accused them of excessive force use that caused injuries to several people.

2. Fundamental Rights

Sabarimala controversy hinges upon fundamental rights, particularly equality and non-discrimination. No person should face discrimination on grounds such as gender, age or religion - this principle is codified into both national law as well as international agreements; any discrimination against women would violate both.

In September 2018, the Supreme Court made history when they overturned the traditional ban on women of menstruating age entering Sabarimala temple. Unfortunately, many Hindu hardliners opposed this decision and fought against those seeking access. Since the matter is still open for discussion and legal challenges to their ruling will begin being heard on January 22, the apex court will start hearing legal challenges against it on that date.

According to the Supreme Court of India, entry restrictions at temples violate women's constitutionally guaranteed equality under Article 25. Furthermore, it ruled that any belief that menstruating women render the temple environment impure violated Article 17 as untouchability was an unlawful form of untouchability and should have been prohibited in accordance with Article 17. Furthermore, Lord Ayyappa's celibate nature as described by sacred texts does not necessarily justify excluding female devotees of his temple from its premises.

On New Year's Eve morning following the Supreme Court ruling, two women -- Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga -- entered Sabarimala temple early as the first women since it lifted its ban, accompanied by plainclothes police officers to ensure their safety and prevent violence from conservative Hindu groups that oppose its decision.

Notwithstanding this fact, many women who attempted to enter the temple since the Supreme Court's verdict were turned away by protesters who have physically and verbally assaulted some. Although Kerala supports this decision of its apex court, their chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has promised security for women visiting temple.

Though violence does erupt occasionally in Kerala's Hindu population, most support allowing women access to Sabarimala. Although religious traditions prohibiting entry of menstruating women may lack scientific basis or foundations in science alone, they remain deeply embedded in millions of Hindu faith practices worldwide.

3. Segregation and Discrimination

The Sabarimala temple in Kerala, India is a centuries-old shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappan who is widely considered a celibate deity. Situated within a tiger reserve forest and visited annually by millions of pilgrims, it attracts millions more each year as people make the trek pilgrimage - more recently there has been a push to allow women of menstruating age into visit the shrine as well.

In September 2018, a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing women to access any temple they desired, due to its significant implications and implications for religious freedom.

After this decision was announced, protests and violence against female devotees erupted across India. In response, the BJP, which dominates national government but holds just one seat in Kerala legislative assembly, capitalized on this controversy to position itself as the protector of Hindu faith and traditions. Many senior BJP leaders even addressed protesters at Kochi airport protest on Friday to urge them to support temple ruling.

Debates surrounding women entering Sabarimala temple has not been about religion; rather it has been driven by social oppression and discrimination against a particular group of people based on stigmatized views of menstruation that make women appear impure or untouchable. While the Supreme Court decision to lift the ban represents an achievement for equality and freedom of worship, implementation may take time before being fully enforced in practice.

Many have heralded the Supreme Court verdict as an historic milestone in India's struggle for gender equality. Temple ban was an outright violation of Articles 14 (equality) and 15 (non-discrimination) of India's Constitution; therefore it is imperative that this Court use its power to uphold these fundamental rights regardless of which political party holds office at either level - regardless of which political party holds power at either Centre or State levels - for equality to exist and social harmony be maintained across India; any discrimination on gender violates Constitution and should be punished accordingly by this Court.

4. Freedom of Religion

Since centuries past, women of childbearing age were forbidden from entering India's Sabarimala temple devoted to Ayyappa deity. That ban was recently overturned by the Supreme Court as its custom violated their rights of equality and religious freedom; however, its implementation still awaits final review hearing scheduled this week.

As it stands now, it's essential to comprehend the complex issues at play here. At its heart lies the issue of equality versus religious freedom: many Hindus including members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party believe that women of menstruating age cannot enter temples because the deity to which it is dedicated requires its devotees to remain celibate.

In 1990, a petitioner challenged the temple's tradition of barring women. In 1991, however, the Kerala High Court upheld it on constitutional and interdisciplinary grounds, concluding that its exclusion of procreative-aged women as religious practice dating back to prehistory was justified under its constitution and justification as essential religious practice that has been observed over time.

Recent Supreme Court ruling has called the validity of the practice into question, with its ruling asserting that religious aspects were not "essential", thus disallowing its continuation and violating women's constitutionally guaranteed right to equality under Article 14 - both arguments which support its prohibition.

At the core of it all lies an issue surrounding temple entry policies: an unprecedented ruling from India's highest court that invalidated bans has incensed millions of Hindus, particularly members of BJP parties.

At Wednesday's protests, which involved tear gas and water cannon use by police, two women identified only as Bindu Ammini and Kankadurga tried to enter the temple despite its ban. According to BBC, they were escorted by plain-clothes police officers and managed to enter without being stopped by devotees in attendance.

Though they did not ascend the 18 holy steps to enter the temple in order to avoid drawing attention from other devotees, their entrance still caused concern among some people. Their concerns have only grown further due to reports that both women have been held in custody, with family members reporting mistreatment from law enforcement officials.