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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 1 New Delhi December 22, 2018 [Annual Number]

Most Backward Notions of the Most Educated People!

Sunday 23 December 2018

by Sukumaran C.V.

Article 15 (1), which is included as Funda-mental Rights in our Constitution, says: “The state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” The Sabarimala temple in the so-called God’s Own Country has virtually been violating the Constitution by practising discrimination against women in the name of gender. The Supreme Court rightly put an end to this gender discrimination on September 28, 2018. The verdict should be seen as a great step towards gender equality. The Chief Justice unequivocally termed the selective ban on women as religious patriarchy. But the gender-biased response of the most educated people to this progressive and positive verdict is quite astonishing and unbelievable. Men and women alike say that the Court should not have allowed women to enter Sabarimala. Protest rallies were/are held by men, and the women too protest against the verdict that allowed their entry to Sabarimala!

Even if the highest court of the nation has ordered that women should not be banned to enter the temple, till today, no woman is allowed even to reach near the temple premises by the so-called protesters who believe that the temple will be impure if women of menstrual age are allowed to enter, whether the Supreme Court allows them to enter or not. The people (including women) and organisations who/that wage(d) the most retrogressive, male chauvinistic and gender-biased war against the landmark Supreme Court verdict, that allowed women to enter Sabarimala putting an end to the selective ban on women in the name of quite baseless gender-related impurity, are dragging Kerala backward to the dark ages. The protests and accompanying violence reveal that the status of Kerala as the most educated state is a sham. The violence and mayhem created against women’s entry into Sabarimala is denigrating Kerala’s renaissance ethos. What the Father of our Nation, the Mahatma, said exactly 82 years ago (on October 21, 1936) in a letter sent to Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur is extremely pertinent as far as the present-day Kerala is concerned: “Man has delighted in enslaving women and women have proved willing slaves till the slaves and the slaveholders have become one in the crime of degrading humanity.”

Non-entry of women has been created as an ‘essential practice’ in Sabarimala by patriarchy that uses faith too as it uses everything, including education, to relegate women and make them lesser beings. The greatest success of patriarchal inculcation of gender bias in our collective conscience is manifested now in Kerala, the so-called most educated State in India, in the form of women protesting en masse against the landmark Supreme Court verdict that allowed them to enter the Sabarimala temple which has been practising selective ban on women long since, in the name of gender-related impurity. The women are protesting holding placards that read ‘Save Sabarimala’. The women’s protest is projecting the demand to save Sabari-mala from women! It means that women themselves agree that they are impure! What a success story of patriarchy!

Women have never come out en masse to the streets in Kerala to protest against rapes or sexual harassment. The protest against the verdict that espouses gender equality in matters of faith reveals how deeply patriarchal we are and it reminds me of what Simon de Beauvoir says in her book The Second Sex: “Legislators, priests, philosophers, writers and scientists have striven to show that the subordinate position of woman is willed in heaven and advantageous on earth. The religions invented by men reflect this wish for domination.”

“Floods and tsunamis will come,” say the most educated people in response to the Supreme Court verdict that rightly put an end to the discriminatory ban on women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. There is only one tea shop in the junction where my office is situated in Nelliyampathy. The tea-shop owner is a very friendly old man. The only problem with him is he always smokes tobacco and I don’t like tobacco smoke. On the day the Supreme Court delivered the landmark verdict, when I went to have my usual cup of coffee in the evening, he was talking with a fellow smoker. “God’s verdict is above the Court verdict,” one says. “Yes, god will teach everybody a lesson,” says the other. People speak as if the SC verdict violated that of the God! God’s verdict is/was that women shouldn’t enter Sabarimala!!

The verdict exposed the most backward notions of the ‘most educated’ people! As long as the collective conscience of the most educated State remains so gender-biased, progressive verdicts like this will fail to bring gender equality in matters of faith. As Kalpana Sharma wrote in her article ‘What happens to girls?’ (Sunday Magazine, The Hindu, June 27, 2004): “The true meaning of education ought to be enlightenment, a liberal and generous approach towards other human beings, and above all humility... Unfortunately, the way the word ‘educated’ is used these days has very little to do with this definition. It merely means an accumulation of paper degrees and qualifications. It has very little to do with the world-view you develop, the way learning changes your approach to life.”

The Norwegian dramatist, Henrick Ibsen, wrote his masterpiece play, A Doll’s House, to show that “a woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, that is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.” Today, we have a judiciary that doesn’t judge feminine conduct from a masculine point of view, but our collective conscience is pathetically gender-biased.

I heard a woman politician speak in a public gathering against women visiting Sabarimala temple. What surprised me was the fact that she belongs to the Congress party. My eleven- year-old daughter was with me and she asked me, “Dad, why this woman is talking against the freedom of her own kind?” My daughter’s question reminded me of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Autobiography and a speech of his wife Kamala he refers to in it. Immediately after reaching home, I took the Autobiography from my bookshelf, opened it and showed her the following sentences, in the 36th chapter titled “A Southern Holiday”, which I have underlined with red ink when I read the precious book years ago: “We had gone to Hyderabad to pay a visit to Mrs Sarojini Naidu and her daughters. During our stay with them a small gathering of women assembled at their house to meet my wife, and Kamala apparently addressed them. She spoke of women’s struggle for freedom against man-made laws and customs (a favourite topic of hers) and urged the women not to be too submissive to their menfolk.”

“Didn’t Jawaharlal Nehru belong to the Congress Party?” my daughter asked, after reading the sentences. “Of course, he was a great Congress politician.” My daughter frowned her face and asked: “Nehru’s wife, who passed away many years ago, talked against man-made laws and customs and Nehru supported her. That means the Congress party was not against women’s equality. Then how can this lady who speaks against women’s freedom belong to the Congress? Don’t the Congress people read Nehru’s books?” I could not answer her question.

All our great leaders were in favour of women’s equality in everything. The Mahatma said: “I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class and low class of people, an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Women will enjoy the same rights as men. This is the India of my dreams.”

But Gandhiji’s dream still continues to be a dream. Even after the highest court of our nation decreed that women can enter Sabari-mala, we are not ready to let women enjoy the same right as men at least in matters of faith. When they hear from public places political speeches against women’s freedom, girls like my daughter feel that they are children of a lesser god.

The author, a former student of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, now works as a senior clerk in the Kerala State Government service. He can be contacted at e-mail: lscvsuku[at]gmail.com

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