Too much is happening too soon in India. Landmark judgments in quick intervals. As the first batch of verdicts arrive, here is my take on the vital historic benchmarks which will go a long way in characterizing the Indian society as we see it today. The socio-economic impact is bound to leave an imprint on each and every Indian citizen.
THE SABARIMALA CASE
At the outset, I would like to point out that the honourable Supreme Court of India must also make it possible for Muslim women in India to pray as equals in the mosques across the nation by way of a statute. Now that is equitable justice. PIL if any? Or our media houses like the Hindu or the Scroll can take it upon themselves to address the issue next, on warfooting basis. There are soldiers like Shekhar Gupta and others to take forward the agenda. Hopefully, the guys hold ample insurance cover!
We did have our Tripthi Desai who fought for women’s entry to Shani temple who though dropped the matter like hot potato when it came to Sufi shrine. Desai is smart, aware of consequences?
Interesting, the PIL for entry of women into Sabarimala Aiyappa temple was filed by one ‘Naushad Ahmed Khan’ ! It cannot get more macabre than this !
Decoding Sabarimala: Why restrictions on women into Sabarimala:
The Supreme court of India has ruled that, women in their fertile years between 10 and 50 can now go on pilgrimage to the shrine set deep in the jungles of western ghats of Kerala, south India. For centuries, the hill shrine’s doors have remained closed to women for specific reasons. Chief most among them is that the Lord Aiyappan, the presiding deity of the temple, is viewed by His devotees as a living deity. Low profile son of Lord Shiva, Lord Aiyappa is revered for his strict ‘brahmacharya’ (bachelorhood) as he kept away from women all His life, the way legends have it.
Sabarimala is nestled within the thick jungles of Western ghats whose rough and moist terrain even today is infested with a variety of wild life including elephants, tigers and leopards. Very recently the holy river Pamba in Sabarimala was flooded in monsoons and the temple had to close down for an infinite period. A pilgrimage to Sabarimala meant fasting, foregoing footwear, sleeping on floor, donning saffron or blue-black clothes, practising abstinence from all worldly pleasures, and intense Pujas (prayers) for a ‘mandala’ (40 days) and then finally walking on foot to the Hill temple. Of course nowadays, modern means of transport take you almost to the base of Sabarimala. Still, devotees have to climb on bare foot the final 50 km stretch or so uphill in rain or shine carrying their own food, fuel and water and Neivedyam (food offerings for Lord Aiyappa) and other such basic necessities. In olden days, a pilgrimage to Sabarimala did not necessarily guarantee one’s return. Wild elephant/tiger/cheetah attacks have statistically claimed many a casualty as also snake bites. A second reason was attributed to infections and epidemics in the forests during the monsoons flush with Malarial parasites. Thirdly, the mountain terrain was itself uninviting that hiking was perilous with devotees succumbing to heat strokes and/or heart attacks. Therefore, before someone set out on pilgrimage to Sabarimala, a big Puja was always done, with the mother of the pilgrim giving him Vaikkarisi (last rice – like last rites before cremation) before leaving home. Now this custom may sound banal, but not until a century ago. The Vaikkarisi custom still continues to be followed among Aiyappa devotees. Women obviously could have been discouraged from going to Sabarimala for these varied and valid reasons.
Sabarimala is one more milestone for Hindu women:
However Hindu women have crossed many hurdles in the last hundred years that the present Sabarimala seems not to be a daunting task. The very Manusmriti that the puritans swear by is against women’s education and employment and also holding/owning/inheriting of estates by women. Women in some states of India also were forced to commit ‘Sati’ – jumping into the funeral pyres of their husbands for centuries It took someone like Raja Ram Mohan Roy to champion the case against Sati. Every social reform in India is thus hard fought for. There is a crusader behind every legal and just cause.
Hindu women also continued to shave their heads when widowed, donning the saffron or the white robes. Last I saw such a ‘mottai paatti’ was in my school days. Do we women still stick to this cruel and ugly ‘Sampradaya’? No divorce was allowed either in Hindu society. Women got ‘separated’ – never legally. This meant no alimony. A man could marry more than once and could have more than one wife. Every single flaw was rectified in our recent history with the help of litigation only. Divorce is the greatest independence that Hindu women can exercise today against exploitation and abuse. I have friends who have won their freedom with this option which was impossible to gain in my mother’s generation.
Hindu women also now enjoy equal rights to property as men – which had to be legally sanctioned. Hindu practices deny rights to real estate to women. Daughters do not inherit as per Hindu family customs. Once again the courts had to intervene when our own mothers/sisters/wives/daughters had to suffer the injustice.
Every step the Hindu women have put forward has been difficult and uncertain – women in India have not walked over a bed of roses like women in every corner of the globe. What the Suffragettes have gone through to elevate the quality of life for women is a heroic tale of valour and justice. No battle has been easy. And most often, as now in the case of Sabarimala, it is women who are primed against women sadly.
When Hindu women can have access to education and employment and most importantly can attend schools and work during menstruation, one cannot understand the logic in continuing with the ban on women at Sabarimala in this modern age. Back when we were teenagers, at least partial quarantine of girls/women at the times of mensus was strictly followed in an overwhelming majority of Hindu households. Not any more.
Last two decades have seen the emancipation of Indian women to highest degree possible with the advent of the computers – and today India boasts of largest number of commercial pilots in the entire world. We have had a woman prime minister. We do now proudly have a woman for Defence minister. It is absurd and hypocritical that women must continue to be barred from Sabarimala for the only reason they are in their fertile years.
Hindu Dharma has in practice, some weird customs and prejudices against women. Women cannot enter Puja/perform Puja/go to temples during the time of menstruation. Conditioned from birth to adhere to these unwritten norms, most of us women find it difficult to go against these unfair practices. The tide is turning, albeit slowly.
So I can understand the furore the Sabarimala verdict has unleashed in our midst. Quite understandably. Let it be the individual’s choice therefore, to go or not to go to Sabarimala (when a woman is between 10 and 50 years). It is unfortunate that even the very learned Hindu mind cannot distinguish the difference between religiosity-ritualism and the essence of spirituality. Both may be mutually exclusive! Just like most Hindus cannot differentiate between Shastras and Sampradhayas. Shastras may be the fixed code but the Sampradhayas are localized customs changeable from time to time. Shastras hold over eons, not the Sampradhayas which are enforced practices and disciplines.
The courts in India have been interfering in Hindu affairs for long. This may be for good and bad. After all, we had to enact a legislation to allow the Dalits into our temples so the courts have ever since had a defining role to play in the case of Hindu worship as well as it when it comes to Hindu women. However, the same courts seem to be blind to the fate of Indian muslim women. Or is it a deliberate lapse? Who dares to bell the cat???
May be one day not in long future, we may be able to look back at Sabarimala and laugh our hearts out. After all, my mother had attended college in early 1960s. Fifty two years back my mother (who is no more) was not only a working woman, she was also legal heir to landed estate inheriting her parents’ home as their daughter. Hindu women did not decry equal rights to property or right to remarry/divorce or right to education/employment. So why now the hue and cry for Sabarimala.
Hopefully the dust will settle soon in Sabarimala as women and men in India wake up to reality and discovering true spirituality. God really cares whether we are menstruating when in His abode?!
REPEAL : IPC 497 AND IPC 377
The Supreme court also has scraped the Adultery Law and legalized the Same Sex Relationship. Kudos to Indian judiciary!
The decriminalization of Adultery and Homosexual relationships is seeing the social media having a field day with abuses and guffaws traded freely online.
A flurry of activity, as if, if not for IPC 497, every single Indian man/woman would now be engaged in extra-maritals! Section 497 that most of us were blissfully unaware of all these days in its existent form, is now hot topic for debate. Repealing of the Act is ‘believed’ to upset the apple cart of the typical Indian family, with restraints thrown to air. Legal sanction for unholy nexuses !!! Just like America !!!
The other landmark ruling pertains to legalizing the same sex relationships. It takes one single faulty chromosome after all, to determine whether you are a homosexual/lesbian or a heterosexual. The third sex has always irked the conscience of the custodians of morality in Indian society. Never mind, homosexuality is NOT taboo in Hindu dharma.
Why must our judiciary have anything to do with morality and ethics of individuals? The courts business is legality of matters, nothing more. Indian society is now mature enough to appreciate and respect individuals’ space and freedom and conscious choices. The courts can have no more say in our private matters.
AADHAR : REPEAL OF SECTION 57
There is not a single one amongst us who have not had to rush for linking Aadhar (identity) Card with our bank accounts, IT (income tax) Returns filings, PAN, Investments, Insurances, Property documents etc., etc., in the last couple of years. Running from pillar to post to meet deadline after deadline, it comes as relief that Aadhar will now be INCLUSIVE and not exclusive as it was supposed to be. However, acquiring one’s PAN (personal assessment number) and filing of IT returns make Aadhar reference/identification/authentication mandatory. The catch is there but the relaxation comes as a breather. Exemption is granted for opening bank accounts, acquiring a SIM card, securing school admissions etc. Once again a good judgement which will make Aadhar less rigid and intimidating and more functional and user-friendly.
However, keeping in view India’s security, whether the supreme court verdict will have an adverse impact is something to keep a tab on. Let us leave it to the hands of experts or Arnab Goswami 😀