Sabarimala ban on women must go

Sabarimala ban on women must go

**FILE** Sabarimala: In this file photo dated Nov 18, 2013, devotees wait at Lord Ayyappa temple, in Sabarimala. The Supreme Court today said women have the constitutional right to enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala and pray like men without being discrimi

The Supreme Court’s observation that the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala is “against the constitutional mandate’’ is a welcome assertion of equality between men and women. A five-judge bench of the court which is hearing a petition for unrestricted entry of women into the famous hill shrine has said that women’s right to pray at the temple “is equal to that of a man and is not dependent on a law’’. There have been persistent demands from women’s organisations and from others who believe in gender equality and justice for the lifting of this illogical and regressive ban. It is a discriminatory rule that has held sway for many decades if not centuries and reflects outdated social attitudes that should have no place in modern society. The Kerala High Court had upheld the bar and the Supreme Court is hearing an appeal against the order. 

The ban is based on the notion that it is wrong and improper for women during their menstrual period to worship at the temple whose deity is a celibate. The basis of the argument is the idea that women are impure during the period. But biology does not make anyone impure, and should not, as in this case, deprive women of their rights and reduce their status in political, social or religious fields. The argument that the ban is in accordance with the conventions of the temple, existing for a long time, is also not tenable. Conventions and traditions which are violative of constitutional rights should not be followed in temples or anywhere. Tradition did not allow the entry of Dalits into temples even in the last century. The bar on women is only as valid as the bar on Dalits. It is the patriarchal attitude towards women and wrong notions of purity that lie at the root of this discriminatory practice. 

Such discrimination exists not only in temples but other religious places like churches and mosques also. The unequal treatment of women is seen not only in the matter of entry but in many other ways, like eligibility for priestly duties and participation in rituals. Women hardly have any role in the administration of religious places. But many sanctions and restrictions are being thrown out because women are demanding their rights and seeking judicial intervention. Court orders have given women the right to entry into the famous Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai and the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. The ban on women in Sabarimala and other places must also go.

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