Why should people go and enter temples which deny them entry when we know that these temples are a den of casteism, corruption and ignorance. It is suggesting that women can’t live without religion. When centuries back Periyar, Ambedkar, Phule and even Bhagat Singh suggested that the Brahmanical value system in India is nothing but absolute denial of human rights for Dalits, shudras as well as women, where was the need to justify the temple entry?
A Six Hundred Twenty Kilometer long human chain was formed on January 1 in Kerala against the attempt to communalise the environment in the state, particularly related to the issues of Sabarimala which the Hindu organisations have been violently protesting, especially after the Supreme Court order allowing women to enter the temple. That even after 70 years of our independence, women, Dalits and others have to struggle and fight to enter temples is a shame to say the least. What is more atrocious is the defence of those who justify it in the name of traditions. Women from diverse sections stood up hand in hand and created history, as claimed by many, against the divisive politics of the Sangh Parivar.
“The sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple was closed on Wednesday just hours after two women below the age of 50 entered the shrine. It was shut to carry out ‘purification’ rituals. According to reports, the sanctum sanctorum was closed around 10.30 am as opposed to 1 pm, when it is usually shut. Following an hour-long 'purification' ritual, the sanctum sanctorum was reopened just before 11.30 am”, The News Minute reported.
This is despicable and yet the priests have no shame. More shameful for those who call themselves ‘political’, talk of gender justice and yet don’t want women to enter. It also proves a valid point that one should expect too much ‘revolution’ from political parties. Social movements have to continue to put pressure for social changes as Periyar influenced Tamil socio-political life by deeply analyzing and exposing the wrongs of the Brahmanical system and at the same time, giving a decent humanist alternative to the people.
Now, Kerala government is saying that the priests of Sabarimala temple have committed contempt of the court while the Congress Party, as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party, have called for a state-wide protest against the entry of two women. The state is now clearly divided between two political groups, with Congress and BJP defending the tradition while the left front taking the lead for ‘progressive’ people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday told an interviewer that the Sabarimala issue is that of traditions. He went on to suggest that there are many temples where men are not allowed and we must respect that. Definitely, he forgot to mention that a huge number of temples do not allow Dalits to enter them but then there were movements against them.
Temple entry movements in India have been a source for mobilisation and building political movements. Despite all these temple entry movements, the country has not moved much in terms of respect for women and those discriminated on the caste identity basis. Swami Agnivesh fought for Dalits entry in Rajasthan’s famous Nathdwara temple in 1988 and got international acclaim for the same, yet even today Dalits entry into those temples is resisted. We had seen many other temples where the entry of Dalits is absolutely prohibited. Many stories have already emerged on Indian TV but nothing like Kerala.
Last year women activists fought for the women’s right to worship in Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai and were successful, but this is a fact that most such Dargahs don’t allow women inside their sanctum-sanctorum. Immediately after the Tsunami, I had travelled to Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and at one of the most revered Sufi shrines in Nagaur near Nagapattinam in Tamilnadu, I found that women were not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum and when the Muttawali or priest allowed me inside the Dargah during the prayers, he proudly informed me how ‘secular’ the Dargah was as it has symbols of all the religious inside it. Suddenly, when he was giving the ‘prasadam,’ I asked why are women not allowed then he responded that they are ‘dirty’ because of the menses. This was a shocking answer for me but then this is a common thread among all the major religions of the world where women have been denied equality.
Temple entry movement never helped the Dalits. They can never challenge the Brahmanical patriarchy because these women actually ultimately want to be the part of Brahmanical patriarchy. If the women have to fight against patriarchy or Brahmanical patriarchy in particular, then, the only option for them is to revolt against all forms of Brahmanical traditions. It won’t be possible as religion or caste are much bigger identity markers than gender. Most of the women feel much comfortable sitting and chatting with their caste fellows than the woman from another community. Of course, they may fight some issues but at the end of the day, religion and caste are bigger identities and uniting factors for all in our part of the world.
The real challenge to Brahmanism came from two big movements for temple entry and both gave big lessons to two biggest revolutionaries of India. The first one was the Satyagraha launched by Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Dada Saheb Gaikwad for the entry of Dalits in the famous Kalaram temple of Nasik on March 2nd, 1930. The movement was resisted by the Savarnas and stones were thrones at the Satyagrahis. Baba Saheb Ambedkar was not the one who would have loved to enter temple to make people more religious but he was more interested to organize the vast untouchable communities under one umbrella, who he called Protestant Hindus but the way the Brahmans and other Hindus opposed their entry into the temple, Baba Saheb was forced to say that though I was born a Hindu, I would not die a Hindu. This was a big call and decision of his life which changed everything and defined the Dalit movement in India.
We all know the historical wrong of the Travancore State against the Dalit Bahujan people. The Dalit women were never allowed to cover their breasts. There were many roads where the Dalits were not allowed to walk. Temples were closed for them. Congress launched a movement against it but it never succeeded though it made Gandhi and Gandhian heroes ultimately neither caste disappeared nor the entry of Dalits became possible. Periyar saw the hypocrisy of the Congress party leaders and resigned from the party. This actually resulted in his launching massive movement against Brahmanism and later forming his own Justice Party.
Both Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Thanthai Periyar fought against Brahmanical patriarchy and punctured their arguments by exposing them. They provided an alternative to people too. Why should people go and enter temples which deny them entry when we know that these temples are a den of casteism, corruption and ignorance. Baba Saheb might have said these words about our villages and the prevailing caste system there but it can also be said about our temples.
Today is the 128th birth anniversary of legendary Savitri Bai Phule, a Bahujan woman who dedicated her life for the betterment of women from all communities. She gave them education, opened schools for the widows and talked about their rights. The big heritage of Bahujan movement right from Jyoti Ba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule to Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Thanthai Periyar, was about leaving the Brahmanical slavery and embracing a new way of life which was more humane. They all spoke against superstitions, priesthood and caste supremacy of the Brahmins. When I see the huge wall of women which is being claimed as a ‘revolutionary’ step, I wonder how many of these women would join hands when a Chitralekha is boycotted, a Kausalya is helpless when her husband, who happened to be a Dalit, is killed in the broad-daylight in Coimbatore and does not find friends to support her, or Sanjali who was burnt by the goons while returning from her school.
We appreciate women rejecting the Sangh Parivar’s attempt to control and dictate terms and conditions over the Sabarimala issue and they have the right to fight and reform their religion. But the fact is, religions are man-made and unchangeable. The second danger is the attempt to portray ‘unity’ despite the fact the socially we are an absolutely divided society whether it is Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Uttar Pradesh, Bihar where caste plays important role in our identification or association with groups and movements.
Feminists are overjoyed but Sabarimala is not a defeat of Brahmanism but establishing it further. It is suggesting that women can’t live without religion. When centuries back Periyar, Ambedkar, Phule and even Bhagat Singh suggested that the Brahmanical value system in India is nothing but absolute denial of human rights for Dalits, shudras as well as women, where was the need to justify the temple entry? We have seen how temple entry become an event and after some time things went back to ‘normal’. As I said, I defend Hindu women’s right to enter the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple but definitely, it is not as revolutionary as being projected.
The revolutionary thing would have been to ask women that there is no God and even if he is inside the temples, he remains powerless, it is people who play power politics with these Gods. Gods and their chamchas have harmed the world, the most. It is time to call their bluff. Investing a huge amount of money to ‘protect’ these temples or other religious places is a waste. These dramas are a waste of energy. It is a well-laid trap by the dominant elite to keep the people subjugated and deny them any space to think about this.
A big human chain for temple entry is no revolution. I would love to see Kerala and Tamil Nadu, two enlightened states to make a big human chain against caste discrimination and untouchability. Let the people speak up against all forms of discrimination and pledge to dismantle hierarchical caste structures and that is only possible once we challenge the concept of God who is created by different religious elites to subjugate people. If Periyar could throw an open challenge in the 20th century and when Ambedkar burnt Manusmriti or said that he won’t die as a Hindu, when Galileo could do it in the Christian world or some others in the Islamic world, why is it so that the people who are not religious are pushing their entry to these temples. It is time for us to keep the religion inside the personal domain of the people. If religion and its value system take our precious time in discussion and orientation, I am sure, we would not have anything else to do except to engage daily on the idiocies created by them.
Religions world over never gave any freedom to women. In fact, most of them punished women and made them second-grade citizens and I am saying it for all religions. Religions segregated people and here the time has now come in the 21st century to make these religions redundant and embrace enlightenment. Religious values will chain you in mental slavery and breaking away from it will give you the freedom to enjoy the modern values of life. If you feel that women are ‘dirty’ because they menstruate then religious values are for you. If you believe that all human beings are equal and have minds of their own and can make their own decisions, then religion is not for you. It is up to you to decide whether you want to choose slavery or enlightenment. The choice is yours.