Who Is Pure And Impure In India?
By Dr.Shura Darapuri
30 December, 2011
In India, we are proud to have a woman as our President, lady Chief Ministers and quite a few women ministers, they might not have left any stone unturned in ruling the country or the state with utmost efficiency and dexterity. Yet in their own country that too in the 21st century they should not at all be surprised if they are labelled as ‘impure’ and denied entry into the temple called "Sabarimala" which houses a bachelor God called Ayyappa. It is situated atop a hill in Kerala, a state with highest number of literates. Kerala's high court, the highest quarters of justice in the state, not for a moment hesitated in upholding the ban in 1990 blatantly flouting the provisions given in the constitution.
More than fifty years back, when the Constitution of India was framed, "Untouchables" - the lower-caste Indians, who were believed to be "impure" and hence objectionable to God – ‘won’ the right to equality when the gates of temples were ‘instructed’ to be open that earlier remained closed to them. Article 25(2b) was instituted specifically for them; to ensure that they could pursue their religion unhampered. This article gives State the power to make laws for "the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus" But it seems ‘free’ India is still struggling in its half hearted effort to give ‘the lesser half of men’ permission to enter into the temples along with the dalits.
The ban has once again triggered the debate of whether women are considered as equal citizens of India or not, by the honourable High court. It also raises a pertinent question in today’s so called modern society whether Constitutional provisions are superior or some of the outdated customs? It has also brought forth the issue that in a democracy, is purity the essential criteria for its effective functioning or responsible citizenship? If purity is placed at the top in the priority list, then who is considered to be a pure person and who is impure? On what grounds purity of a person is going to be proved? Is it someone who denies basic right to health and even right to life to his fellow citizen by supplying dangerous concoction in the name of ‘milk’ made by mixing urea, detergents and other chemicals, or someone who distributes contaminated ‘parshad’ outside the religious places or a person who doesn’t hesitate to commit rape of even a small child or a murder even, or someone who misuses his skills for few chunks of money, in depriving someone of his vital organs? A negligent hospital staff, responsible for the death of newborn babies? A negligent train or bus staff responsible for killing innocent commuters? Tortourous murderer in-laws ? Are all these people going to be allowed entry into the holy premises of Lord Ayyappa except for women who fortunately or unfortunately ‘mothers’ a man?
On 19th December 2011 a purification ceremony was being performed at the Lord Ayyappa temple after a 35-year-old woman entered the shrine and offered worship in violation of the custom barring entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group. According to the temple administration officials the ceremony was performed at the 18 sacred steps (pathinettam padi) leading to the main temple, and near the sanctum sanctorum. Temple tantri (traditional high priest) led the purification ceremony according to the Travancore Devaswom Board officials. The woman, identified as Saraswathi from Andhra Pradesh, managed to climb the highly-revered 18 steps, entered the temple complex and offered worship in the afternoon. She was spotted by Rapid Action Force personnel while she was near Mallikapuram, sub-temple in the complex.RAF personnel handed her over to the local police, who, however, let her go and did not register any case. In an another incident a mother of two ill children wanted to enter the temple; and she was arrested before reaching the sanctum and this ban was upheld by the Kerala High Court in 1990. In December 2002, a bunch of women supposedly tried to enter the shrine. And the Kerala HC ordered a probe to see how that happened ! A similar controversy had broken out in 2006 after Kannada actor of yesteryear Jayamala claimed to have entered the temple during her prime and touched the idol of the presiding deity, claiming that she was pushed into the sanctum sanctorum by the surging crowd.
A case was registered against Jayamala and a charge sheet was filed in a court last year against her in connection with her claim but it was stayed by the Kerala High Court last October. There is no denial of the fact that gender discrimination still exists in Indian society which is still conspicuosly experienced in the temples. There is a long list of lame reasons given, amusingly, one being that of impurity related to menstruation, a phenomenon which is biologically controlled, unfortunately is regarded as a disability and ban is imposed on that ground to enter the temple.
As far as our knowledge of biology goes, without certain “biological processes” it would have been difficult for women to produce even a man. Nature recognizes and bestows equal importance to both men and women in bringing into the world their progeny, but it is the Man who considers his sole privilege to discriminate. It’s a great paradox that once the man is out of the women’s body he misses no opportunity to flaunt that he is superior to women and makes sure she too believes in his superiority. He cleverly denies her the right to education and writes down all laws suiting his interests. She is made to feel ‘unsafe’ without him, repeated assaults on her integrity confirms her doubt. The same “natural processes” which earns her the honor of being called fertile and ‘useful’ enough to produce sons for man, becomes a disqualification in her efforts to enter the temple. A harmless menstruating lot of women are considered far more dangerous than the country’s worst lot of criminals and terrorists. The question arises, it is said that when not a leaf moves without the will of the Lord then why should He create and then deny an opportunity to get His “darshan” to some of His blind devotees?
That makes it easier to understand that why corruption still flourishes in our country, norms of purity related to caste, gender etc., are so deeply ingrained in the minds of the people, that nobody really bothers about the constitutional laws or notion of owing any kind of moral responsibility towards the society let alone the country.
“In free India, women still seem to be in chains everywhere”. She is unnecessarily burdened with the guilt of disturbing the peace of mind of the greatest of all gods let alone men. The promiscuous qualities of most men goes unquestioned and it is the women who has to solely live with the guilt of provoking men into victimizing their lot. For the same reason, few months back there was a furore over girls wearing jeans, which covers her body respectably and comfortably more than the traditional Indian sarees which renders the body half naked. If apparels were to be blamed then why is it that the incidents of rape and molestation in the villages are on a rise? That too mostly the victims are poorly clad ‘untouchable’ dalit women who are either caught on their way to work or on their way to the fields to answer the nature calls, under tens and above 70 are also not spared. The ill-fed domestic help in the cities are also considered a great source of ‘provocation’ for the elite of the elites. The sellers of fairness creams and other branded expensive cosmetic items need to pull their shutters down!
But what perplexes the mind is neither the honourable court of justice nor a temple considers a rapist or a child molester ‘impure’ or creates a fuss over his entry into the temple. But a woman who serves man from day to night sometimes as a mother in his childhood and wife in later years, fasts for his long life day in and day out has to be pulled away from the temple premises by a couple of policemen like a ‘criminal’ for exhibiting her ‘extra devotion’ to the Lord.
The purity and impurity question needs to be reconsidered on priority basis even before we deal with the issue of corruption. In 21st century to make democracy more fruitful and effective, Indians are in dire need of a training in character building and honest handling of responsibilities. This will not happen unless we learn to accept India as one country and other citizens as our brethren and sisters. Since ages ‘pluralities’ have enriched our culture and we have been living with such uniqueness knowingly or unknowingly. There’s a deliberate and a dire need to preserve that tradition, not tear it apart in a naïve bid to prove ones superiority over the other. No longer there exists a dividing ‘Raj’ then why are Indians still toddling in their efforts to see India build as a strong nation? Napoleon Bonaparte once said “Give me good mothers and I will give you a good nation” But it is to be remembered, ‘goodness’ of mothers depend on her good mental and physical being and unless she is given equal rights as a citizen and right to live peacefully, a country will neither progress nor emerge as a strong nation!
Dr.Shura Darapuri Coordinator, Centre for the study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Baba Saheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar University, Lucknow (U.P.), India
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