Sabarimala Temple Controversy and the Barriers in Front of Women’s Liberation

Our country is crossing through an interesting juncture. In spite of the increasing tendency of forcing people to shout the slogan “Bharat Mata Ki Jay”, the recent controversy centering Kerala’s Sabarimala temple is a burning evidence that “cow-mothers” are more respectful than the real “Bharat-Matas”. Even, along with the BJP and the RSS, the Congress also decided to protest against the recent verdict of Supreme Court in which the apex court removed the ban on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The state government under the rule of Pinarayi Vijayan welcomed the decision. Since then, the protest against the verdict has been hijacked by local political parties. In a state, which is till bearing the wounds of a devastating flood, such attention-seeking politically motivated controversy only shows the ideological crisis of the parliamentary political parties.

It all started in 1991, when Mahendran, a devotee of the Sabarimala temple, wrote a petition against the temple board, alleging that it was allowing women into the sanctum and extending special treatment to VVIPs, thus, was violating temple practices. In its judgment, the Kerala High Court announced that as per the existing tradition, women between the ages of 10-50 shall not be allowed to enter the temple. This age limit was set by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which was in charge of the temple administration. Unfortunately, a judgment like this was not based on the constitutional norms of non-discrimination and equality. Rather, it was based on purely mythical stories. According to popular belief, the deity at the Sabarimala temple had taken up the vow of celibacy, which by some religious rule does not allow any contact with women who are within reproductive age, i.e, women who has any chance to menstruate. Since then, like most of the temples in our ‘democratic’ India, Sabarimala temple also shut its door for the real living “Bharat-Matas”. In 2006, the Indian Young Lawyers’ Association escalated the issue directly to the Supreme Court, and legal battle started centering it. After 12 years, finally, on 28th September 2018, the Supreme Court removed the ban on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. The verdict immediately faced vehement opposition form the children of Manu, i.e., the BJP and its ideological pillar – the RSS. It was expected from them, as they even want to replace our constitution with Manusmriti, which categorically coded the rules for ideal women, such as – “day and night women must be kept in dependence (and guarded) by the males of their families” [1], “by carefully guarding his wife, a man preserves the purity of his offspring, his family, himself, and his means of acquiring merit” [2]. From the last two millennia, the Brhaminic feudal forces are ardently following this text, which is full of derogatory terms and actions against the women and the Shudras. Thus, when they started protesting this verdict, one can easily connects it to the Manu’s argument that menstruation, according to a myth, is associated with women’s participation in brahmana murder. It is a mark of a woman’s innate impurity and, at the same time, of her innate sexuality. However, along with the Sangh brigade, to woo the Hindu votes, even Congress joined the protest against the Supreme Court verdict. The subsequent incidents have undoubtedly proved that how much these so called democratic parties acts against the liberation of women from patriarchal shackles.

The marriage laws and customs are enough to make us realize that how the patriarchal Hindu society regard women as commodities. However, we must note that the situation of women is same in most of the feudal / semi-feudal societies. In this regard, to find the way leading towards the liberation of women, we must discuss the process of social development.

Once, societies were not aware of the concept of private property. Such primitive societies were founded on the matrilineal kinship principles. Peoples belonging to these societies used to believe in some magical relationship between the reproductive qualities of the women and the same of the earth. Such beliefs led to the consideration of menstrual blood as a holy thing, in those primitive matrilineal societies. In the words of the famous philosopher George Thomson – “… the ritual for fertilizing the soil was modeled on the ritual for reproducing the human species, that is the ritual of childbirth. … The community was ruled by female chiefs, whose sexual life was treated as a ceremonial cycle of mimetic magic. The queen had to conceive in order that the earth might become fruitful.” [3] Evidences of these can be found in various rituals of the people, who are still stuck into such primitive phase of human development. For example – “In North America, when the corn is attacked by grubs, menstruating women go out at night and walk naked through the fields. Similar customs still survive among the European peasantry. Pliny recommended as an antidote to noxious insects that menstruating women should walk through the fields with bare feet, loose hair, and skirts drawn up to the hips. … The idea was evidently to diffuse the fertile energy with which the female body was believed at such times to be charged.” [4] Imprints of such primitive tribal rituals can also be observed in various Indian tribes. In the light of modern scientific development, while considering these beliefs as superstitious, we must not belittle the thought process of primitive people, because in natural absence of scientific outlook of the world they “confused the process by which human beings reproduce their kinds with the process by which plants discharge the same function” [5] in order to control the nature. However, in later phases of societal development, patriarchy evolved with the emergence of private property, family, and state, and women transformed into a mere commodity. In feudal societies, such as our Hindu society, patriarchal ideologues transformed the menstrual blood to a symbol of ‘impurity’ of the women. Such commodification of women can only be reversed through complete societal transformation on the basis of mode of production and production relations. The social transformation of Russia and China during the socialistic developments in these two countries practically proved to the world that how such measures can liberate the women from patriarchal shackles.




1] Manu Dharmasutra, IX. 2-5.

[2] Manu Dharmasutra, IX. 7.

[3] “Religion” by G. Thomson, 1950; cited in “Lokayata” by Debiprasad Chattopadhyay, 1956, pp. 378.

[4] “Studies in Ancient Greek Society” by G. Thomson, 1949; cited in “Lokayata” by DC, pp. 411-412.

[5] “The Golden Bough” by J. Frazer, 1949; cited in “Lokayata” by DC, 1956, pp. 378.

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