Why it was important to flout tradition in Sabarimala


Ayyappa Temple, Sabarimala. Pic: Anjana Menon/Malayalam Wikipedia

Sabarimala is on national news now. The age-old tradition of denying women below the age of fifty entry into the famous temple has been broken. Two women have bravely gone where no woman (in that age group) has gone since 1991. Protests have erupted across the state of Kerala, but they seem to be largely politically motivated. So then, which side does the average person take in this seemingly dicey debate?

For starters, you might think, like many others, ‘Why did these women choose to target this long-held religious custom? Why not address issues in other social and work related settings?’

Let me try and shed some light.

Imagine a little boy and his father going on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. The boy notices that in all the masses of people around them, there aren’t any girls or women (except some old grandmas). So, he asks his father, “Dad, why aren’t there any women here?”. Now, imagine you are that little boy’s father and you need to answer that question; what would your explanation be? 

Let me guess; any father would probably say, “It’s tradition. Only women above the age of fifty come to Sabarimala.” Curiosity isn’t a courteous guest. The boy would predictably ask why that is so. Then what would you say?

Would you come up with a lie to shut him up?

Or would you just opt to break it to him that our tradition believes women are ‘impure’?

There is no chance that you would explain the whole biology of menstruation to the young boy, but that’s beside the point here. Any which way, the boy will eventually learn the truth. He is going to grow up with the idea that women are intrinsically ‘sub-man’. That there is something mysteriously wrong with them that makes them less worthy. This notion along with all the patriarchy and discrimination on blatant display in his day-to-day life, would subconsciously cement a borderline misogynistic mentality.

You don’t have to take my word for it; just look at the footage of those cry-babies throwing a real tantrum out on Kerala’s streets!

This is why the Sabarimala issue is important. This is why activists tried to break the long-held tradition (and eventually succeeded). Though so many Ayyappa-bhakts would openly support feminism and gender equality in their social spheres, at the heart of their most personal beliefs lies the hypocrisy of ‘impurity’. It only truly hurts when it happens to you.

While we point fingers at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, condemning how they treat their women, we forget that we treat ours badly too. We turn a blind-eye even when women are discriminated against right in front of us. All we need is some twisted and senseless logic to pass off as a reason for doing so. 

To me this Sabarimala issue is a wake up call. It showed me how it feels when our hypocrisies blow up right in our faces. It is time to be more aware of the injustices being casually dished out on the basis of unfounded justifications. Breaking the silence might make the person doing it seem rude and confrontational, but what else will actually change things? Should we just go with the usual – waiting for western cultural hegemony to take its time and slowly ‘advance’ our social norms, habits and choices on its terms?

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About Prashanth Gopala 1 Article
Prashanth Gopala is an entrepreneur based in Chennai.

1 Comment

  1. The principle behind the Supreme COurt’s verdict on Sabarimala is certainly forward looking and in tune with modern times. ( Let’s hope they don’t change their minds after this months’ hearing though)
    However, such traditions can be changed only gradually and with tact and diplomacy. The Kerala CM has shown how to implement a gradual change without provoking a huge law and order situation . He must be commended for walking the tightrope so adroitly , with both national parties baying for his blood.

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