‘Politics of patriarchy defeats women power’

A Sabarimala temple official has sparked an angry nationwide social media campaign after he said that women would be allowed into the shrine — but only after a scanning machine is invented to tell whether or not they were menstruating. Chitra Sawant spoke to noted activist Vidya Bal (in pic), whose Pune-based organisation, Milun Saryajani, has been working across the state on several issues related to the empowerment of  women.  Vidya’s contribution as an editor, writer and a feminist spans over five decades.
Excerpts of the interview.
Q: The chief of Devasom Board of Sabarimala Temple, Kerala has said women could be allowed inside the temple only after the invention of a machine to ‘check their purity’, alluding to their menstrual cycles. Are such statements now being made because of the present government at the Centre?
A: The present government has added to the basic patriarchy system that is prevailing in the world ever since the past 5,000 years. This system makes every effort to see women are not considered equal to men. Discrimination against women persists in both private and public spheres.
Q: At the Shani Shinganapur temple in Ahmednagar, women devotees are not allowed to perform the pooja, whereas male priests are allowed to perform poojas at temples of Hindu Goddesses. What are the reasons behind such discrimination?
A: Religious scriptures are written by men and there is discrimination shown towards women in these texts. I don’t believe in the existence of God but if there is presence of God in a temple and all human beings are his creations, then why would he not allow them to enter his premises. There is absolutely no reason to stop women from entering the temple. A few years ago, when a lady IAS officer was not allowed to enter the temple to check the accounts of the temple’s trust, her reasoning was at that point of time that she was not a man or a woman, and that she was just a government officer performing her duties.
Q: What kind of stand should men take, should they avoid going to such places of worship?
A: A few years ago, a group of women activists of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, led by their then leader Ram Kadam, had entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Mahalaxmi Temple in Kolhapur, breaking a 2,000-year-old tradition in which women have been banned from entering the temple. While debating this issue on a television channel after the incident I asked Mr Kadam, whether women on periods will be allowed to enter the temple? He did not answer to my question.  He should not have avoided that question. Those women should have rebelled against this practice as well at that time. When former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had gone to Shani Shinganapur’s temple in Ahmednagar along with his wife, he entered the temple premises alone, leaving her outside, as being a woman she was not supposed to go inside. You can expect only those men to join this fight against discrimination who believe in equality for women.
Q; How can women solve this problem?. Will filing a PIL resolve the issue?
A: Yes, someone should come forward and file a PIL in this regard.
Q: Why are women considered impure while they are on periods and why is it wrong to consider them impure?
A; Menstruation is a natural and biological phenomena in the life of a woman. When a girl is born, going by health standards it is normal to menstruate. It is the religion of the body. How can you term impure to a process which is biological? It is such an important happening in a woman’s life, it helps in the very process of creation of human species. It prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy each month. Having regular menstrual cycles is a sign that important parts of woman’s body are working normally. Women are conditioned not to enter temples or premises where poojas are performed when they are on periods. This calls for unhealthy practices like delaying periods by consuming pills, which can harm a woman’s body.
Once a doctor explained to me, saying you decorate your home in a specific way if you have to welcome a guest. But in case the guest does not arrive, you have your home settings back to normal. The same happens when you menstruate, your body sheds the lining of the uterus (womb) when conception does not occur. Biologically menstrual fluid is a mixture of tissues and blood vessels and there is nothing impure about it. One should start thinking and be aware of stupidity in religion. Girls should be educated on this. There is a need to impart sex education to children and parents, they should be informed about the genitals of men and women and about sexual life in a healthy and meaningful way.
Q: Why so much stress on women’s purity wherein being a virgin before marriage is also considered crucial?
A: This is the politics of patriarchy. In a patriarchy system, women are kept subordinate in a number of ways. This system keeps women dominated and subordinate. Men try to restrict women in various ways. Chastity is yet another aspect of this restriction process.
Q: Do you think the rigid rules of Manusmriti are still practised…why are such statements that are against our Constitution being made?
A: The rigid rules of Manusmriti are still carried in the minds of people. We are lucky to have re-evaluation of the religious scriptures by rationalist thinkers like Dr Ambedkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule. This government does not believe in the Constitution but believes in religion. In spite of the rational tradition of Maharashtra, the government wants to go back to Manusmriti’s days. Mahatma Phule opened the door for women’s empowerment in 1848 by starting a school for girls, by teaching them to think. But unfortunately, it appears the present government wants women to go back home and follow Manusmriti’s laws. It closes all doors opened for women through education by Mahatma Phule. Women and men who believe in equality should think of this attitude of the present government.

Free Press Journal