At home, women are generally keepers of the faith. Most children get their first religious instructions from their mother or grandmother. Stories with moral lessons, as well as rituals of worship are learnt at the knee of senior womenfolk. But children discover something unpleasant when growing up. The senior women who taught them about God and godliness at home are barred from entering many places of worship outside. At an early age, the girl child begins to understand why. The problem is supposedly with the menstrual cycle during which women are considered ‘unclean’. This view may not be scientific, but some argue that matters of faith cannot be judged on the basis of science or logic, and that courts should keep out of such disputes. Presently the Supreme Court is hearing the issue of ban on entry of women in Sabarimala temple of Kerala. The Bombay High Court is awaiting the apex court’s ruling, because it is also considering two similar pleas. One plea before the High Court relates to rights of female devotees to offer prayers at the sacred platform of the Shani Shingpur temple in Maharashtra; the other deals with the demand by Muslim women activists seeking rights to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. Even as this controversy rages on, the Travancore Dewaswom Board, which controls the Sabarimala temple administration, has added fuel to the fire. Its president reportedly commented that women may be allowed entry into the shrine ‘if a machine is invented which can check their purity’, whether the ‘time is right or not’ for them to enter. This indirect reference to the menstrual cycle has inflamed women’s rights groups further, who see blatant sexism and crude patriarchal mindset behind such attempts to shame women for their biology. Back in 2010, the then Governor of Assam, late JB Patik made headlines when he entered the inner prayer hall of historic Patbausi Xatra with several women. The Indian constitution has guaranteed equal rights to all citizens. The onus, however, is on our society to respond to changing times and give a just and equitable deal to women, who after all make up half its numbers.
food for thought