Back in September

India’s supreme court has ruled against a ban on girls and women of menstruating age from entering a prominent Hindu temple in southern Kerala state, upholding rights to equality of worship.

The authorities at the Sabarimala temple, which attracts tens of millions of pilgrims every year, have said the ban on women and girls aged from 10 to 50 was essential to the rites related to the temple’s chief deity, Ayyappan, who is considered eternally celibate, and were rooted in a centuries-old tradition.

Yes, so much suppression and exclusion of women is rooted in a centuries-old tradition. It’s been a centuries-old tradition to treat women as the property of men and as fundamentally insignificant for millennia. That’s not a reason to keep on doing it. Many centuries-old traditions are unjust or cruel or both. Let’s unceremoniously dump them.

And it’s so circular, in the way it takes male subjectivity as decisive and female subjectivity as irrelevant. The temple’s chief deity is male and is considered eternally celibate, therefore women represent nothing but A Threat To This Man’s Celibacy – as walking sex-slots, basically. The idea that their presence in the temple would be for their own reasons, that have nothing to do with sex, isn’t even rejected, it makes no appearance at all.

Lauren Frayer and Sushmita Pathak at NPR December 22:

The Sabarimala temple is famous for this pilgrimage. It attracts millions of Hindu devotees each year. But most of them are men, because the temple is also famous for something else: a partial ban on female worshippers.

The temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, a Hindu god who devotees believe is celibate and cannot have contact with women of menstruating age. Some believe that’s because such women are impure. Others believe it’s because they are of childbearing age — fertile and thus a temptation to Lord Ayyappa. (Hinduism has no central authority on religious doctrine, and believers’ rationales vary.)

“We need to keep the bitches ladies out; never you mind why.”

The fact that the rationales are plural hints that it’s rooted in plain old misogyny. The men just don’t want women around because women are inferior goods because they’re not men. If a temple is special then it should be reserved for men because men are best and women are meh.

In September, India’s Supreme Court ruled that Sabarimala’s age restrictions on women amount to gender discrimination. Justices ordered the temple to admit women of all ages, immediately.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of protesters, male and female devotees and some right-wing Hindu politicians have turned out to block women from approaching the temple.

Not one woman between the ages of 10 and 50 has been able to reach Sabarimala since the court ruled Sept. 28 that they should be able to do so.

Serves the sluts right, the whores.

Many say that women’s presence at Sabarimala offends their faith and that the Supreme Court ruling infringes on their freedom of religion.

But what about the freedom of religion of women between 10 and 50? The ban infringes that, so what’s the solution?

Thousands of protesters, including local politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have been arrested since September for taking part in violent demonstrations against the court’s verdict.

Some female devotees have taken part in the protests, arguing that they do not want the right to visit the temple — and vowing to block others who do.

Ancient traditions can do that to people – convince them of their own inferiority, for instance.

When NPR journalists — two women under age 50 — visited the area to report this story, police offered a patrol car and several officers to escort us, to ensure our safety. Several taxi companies refused to drive us to Nilakkal, the temple’s base camp, about 13 miles from the temple. The closest we could persuade a driver to take us was to another town, Erumely, about 20 miles from the temple.

So the ban extends – however informally – 20 miles out from the temple. That’s quite a ban.

When a prominent Hindu feminist, Trupti Desai, announced in October her intention to visit Sabarimala, she says, she received hundreds of death threats.

“They said, ‘If you come to Kerala, we’ll break your limbs. We’ll cut you up into pieces,’ ” Desai recalls.


In recent years, India’s Supreme Court has delivered landmark rulings to protect the rights of women, religious minorities and homosexuals. But some Indians see that trend as too progressive, too Western.

“What is progressive for you may not be progressive for me. Merely because something happened in America or in Europe, it need not be necessarily applicable to or acceptable to the culture of this country,” says Cyriac Joseph, a retired Supreme Court justice who disagrees with his former colleagues’ decision to allow women to go to the temple.

As a member of India’s Christian minority, Joseph believes the court should be especially careful to protect the rights of any religious group to worship as it sees fit.

“For example, in the Catholic Church, only men are allowed to be priests. Will the court say this is against equality? That is ridiculous!” he says.

No it is not; it is far from ridiculous. Religions make huge claims on people, telling them what is good and what to believe; making religions a male monopoly gives men sole authority over what women as well as men are told to do and think.

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