One of the main reasons I wanted to write about this issue was because an impression was being created that this is a fight between the temple and women, and that the temple was a male-dominated bastion, I want to demolish this argument completely. Also I am not discussing this issue as a right-wing activist or conservative, but trying to analyse the diverse nature of this country and how sometimes it is misinterpreted.
Religion can clash with law, faith need not. It is natural for an old civilisation like India to have old practices revered by the faithful. In the case of the Sabarimala deity, the faithful have strong arguments in their favour. By choosing not to accept these, the Supreme Court trod a path it need not have. In order to get the right answer, you need to ask the right questions. For understanding purposes lets break down the entire issue into questions and there by analyse its answers.
So the basic question we need to begin with is, What is the ritual at Sabarimala Temple and Why women of certain age group are restricted?
The answer to this is, firstly the temple of Sabarimala is dedicated to the celibate deity Lord Ayyappa. He is a Naishtika Brahmachari – one who undertakes a vow to remain a celibate till his death. It means he will not come in contact with the opposite gender physically or mentally. Hence the basic premise that the restriction is based on Menstruation is absolutely false. It is based on Celibacy (the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations). Also Celibacy is not directed at women, even women can practise celibacy and refrain from coming in contact with the opposite gender. Therefore to assume that this is a masculine or patriarchal concept would be completely wrong.
Hence we need to ask the question, Is this instance based on gender discrimination? Absolutely not, it is based on the essential religious practise observed by the deity of the temple. So it is not discrimination, it is Exclusion! Coming to restricting women of a particular age group, the tradition does not define age group per say 10-50(that is done by the state), it merely says any women with reproductive capabilities must not enter the temple because it again goes against the essential fundamentals of Naishtika Brahmacharya.
There are other Ayyappa temples where he is not in the Brahmachari form and there are no restrictions on women in those temples. The restrictions in Sabarimala are more on Ayyappa than on women and they are self-imposed because he does not want his penance to be disturbed.
The next question that can be asked is, How does one decide what is essential practise to be followed or How do we decide what is essential? For that the Supreme court had said, primarily there has to be scriptural evidences about the tradition and also there has to be a nexus between the character of the temple and the tradition that is followed. As far as scriptural evidences are concerned, Bhoothanathopaakhyaanam is the text refered in this case also called as “Sthala Purana”(the text that spells out the history, origin of the temple or deity).Therefore you need to ask yourself if someone just randomly decided to invent this practise out of nowhere and says women should be kept out or is it drawing support from a scripture. Hence the scripture and the tradition establishes a clear nexus between Lord Ayappa and the temple rituals therefore legally and constitutionally it stands firm ground under Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution(freedom to practise religion)
All the above arguments sound very religious and less logical but as Justice Indu Malhotra, the only judge who ironically happens to be a woman, upheld he temple’s tradition said in her opening statement of the judgement, “You cannot bring logic and rational into Religion”, that is the reason we have Article 25 and 26 in the Indian Constitution – which also believes in faith and gives it a fundamental right status in our country.
Now let’s try to analyse the faith or religious aspect of this tradition in our country. Some people may say this is basic superstition. Firstly, Who is to decide whether it is a superstition or religion? It is for the devotees or the people who put faith in that tradition to decide.
Think of this, If somebody says I do not believe in “Shahadat” but I still claim to be a Muslim. How can that be true? Because if you do not believe in the basic fundamental concepts of that faith and you do not treat Allah as the only God or Prophet Mohammad as the last messenger then there is no question that you can claim the rights to be a Muslim. As far as Christianity is concerned, the virginity of Mary is one of the essential belief of the religion, but no one has ever asked Why is her virginity so important? It is mentioned in the Bible. That means in order for you to claim access to a particular religious institution you need to follow the rules of that institution so is the case with the rules of Sabarimala temple.
Another example can make it more clear. Lets say there is a Ganesh Temple in Pune. Now somebody says I have rights to worship this particular deity in a manner I deem fit and according to my liberty therefore I will offer Non-veg as ” Prasad” today. Can it be acceptable? Hence the important thing to note here is individual rights to practise any faith in any manner are restricted to your own house, when it comes to public places of worship the rules of that temple must be followed.
Next question someone can ask is, If a normal person were to observe Brahmacharya, he/she may go astray and may be susceptible to weakness, but since Lord Ayyappa is a God, How can he lose control or can show weakness?
Here is where Hinduism differs from its fundamental understanding of a deity from other religions. For example If you ask a Christian or a Muslim whether a normal person can become god, that would be unthinkable or sacrilege. But when you ask a Hindu, yes it is possible for a human to attain Godhood. What it also means is Gods in Hinduism have been given human flaws, for example Lord Indra and many others. Therefore again it reiterates the essential practise of celibacy to be followed by Lord Ayyappa even though he is a God.
Talking about Hinduism, the religion is diverse and the basic essence of the religion is its diversity. The whole issue of Sabarimala is wrongly portrayed or motivated as- Temple vs Women or impurity attached to menstruation. There are temples in India which worship the process of Menstruation like The kamakhya temple in Assam, therefore to say that this issue is about menstruating women is absolutely false. Also one needs to understand that the Sabarimala temple is based on Tantric philosophy and not Vedic philosophy. In tantric philosophy the force of sexuality is considered to be one of the strongest and hence there is alienation from the opposite gender in case of Lord Ayyappa.
“Religion is flawed only because Men/Women are flawed”.