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Indian temple set to allow entry to females who menstruate

Hindu women who favor barring women of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple scan vehicles at Nilackal, a base camp on the way to the mountain shrine in Kerala, India, on Oct. 16, 2018. The historic mountain shrine reopens Wednesday for the first time after India's Supreme Court lifted the ban, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender. Devotees have been protesting against the verdict, demanding that the customs and rituals of the temple should be protected. (AP Photo)

NEW DELHI (AP) — A temple in southern India that’s one of the largest Hindu pilgrimage centers in the world is set to open its doors to females of menstruating age after a ruling by the country’s top court.

Some 1,000 police officers cleared protesters from the vicinity of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state on Wednesday (Oct. 17), hours before the temple’s doors were to open to females ages 10 to 50, said police officer Manoj Abraham. But the protesters bullied and attacked some devotees and journalists elsewhere.

Police arrested 11 protesters when they tried to block the path of some females. On Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators stopped buses carrying devotees to two of the temple’s base camps and asked females to show documents to prove their age.

Television video showed the protesters turning violent and attacking the cars and vans of some female reporters and TV crew members some distance from the temple.

Pooja Prasaanna of the Republic TV channel said the protesters hurled stones at a police van where she and her crew members had taken shelter after their car was targeted, and snatched away batons carried by some police officers who tried to shield them.

The NewDelhi Television channel reported that some 20 protesters surrounded a bus in which a reporter of The Newsminute channel was traveling and tried to pull her out. The reporter was kicked by angry protesters who also hurled abuses at her, NDTV reported.

Since a state court ruling in 1991, the centuries-old temple has barred women and girls ages 10 to 50 from entering. India’s Supreme Court lifted the ban last month, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.

Temple management and the protesters argue that the celibate nature of the temple’s presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is protected by India’s constitution. Some religious figures consider menstruating women to be impure.

Meghna Pant, a female activist, said the celibacy of the deity was not more important than the equality of women. “Who are men to decide where women can go or not?” she said.

Supporters of the ban have been angered by the state government’s decision not to seek a review of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Rahul Easwar, an attorney for the temple, appealed to the female devotees not to enter the temple and give temple authorities until next week to file a review petition in the Supreme Court.

Sabarimala is surrounded by mountains and dense forests in its location at the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Up to 50 million devotees visit the temple every year.

Several temples across India have banned women, saying the policy is intended to preserve the purity of their shrines. The operators of a temple in the northwestern state of Rajasthan believe the Hindu god Kartikeya curses women who enter the temple, instead of blessing them.

India’s secular courts have intervened recently in cases in which a religion’s gender beliefs were seen as discriminatory.

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Ashok Sharma

15 Comments

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  • “India’s Supreme Court lifted the ban last month, holding that equality is supreme irrespective of age and gender.”

    When are Christians going to figure that out? Stop lynching queers, already.

  • Not sure. The social sciences have always presented a missionary reading of rituals, festivals and pilgrimages; the social sciences don’t have an independent conceptual framework to handle rituals, festivals, and pilgrimages.

    Consider the following argument: If a society wants to teach men to:

    (a) be alpha-male in order to be competitive at work; and

    (b) control their libido;

    then what is wrong with a pilgrimage of this sort? (The article didn’t make it clear, but men don’t go just like that to this temple; men have to refrain from several activities for some 40 days beforehand.)

    By way of contrast, consider what Western universities do to teach men:

    (i) They have employees take a 1-hour course on gender harassment at work.

    (ii) They teach men that if a women says, “No”, it means no.

    (iii) They instruct campus police to take complaints on gender harassment on priority.

    Are you sure that the modern way is better than the pre-modern (or pre-literate or pre-scientific) way?

  • Even the words “superstition” and “True Believers” pre-suppose that the Indian traditions are composed of beliefs, and these beliefs motivate humans to conduct rituals, festivals and pilgrimages. This is just Eusebius/Augustine theology smuggled into the social sciences.

  • It’s definitely better to “take complaints on gender harassment on priority.” What Russian-to-English translator app are you using?

  • Your comment seems to be claiming that “a pilgrimage of this sort” teaches men to be “alpha-males”.

    Alpha-males are “alpha” relative to other males, not relative to women. Someone who thinks he is an alpha-male because he takes a pilgrimage that excludes a lot of women is deluding himself. This is not surprising. Most religious activities require some measure of self-delusion.

  • Let me rephrase in view of your feedback. Men have to learn balance (a) and (b). The intent of the pilgrimage is just (b), not (a).

    I mentioned that men are required to refrain from some activities for some 40 days before visiting the temple. My impression is that women are appreciative that menfolk are learning some self-restraint after all.

    As to excluding women from the temple: I am willing to say that it is asymmetric in the sense of pure mathematics! But are women aggrieved by it? My impression is that lots of women are not aggrieved by it.

  • Goshes. women treated as human beings, and not something to be feared.

    What next? Pat Robertson ignoring the murder of a man so that a large arms deal— not the kind of arms for hugging, but the kind used for killing— is not endangered?

  • They have no right to destroy the Temple. I believe due to strict marriage issues, women who violate the sanctity of the Temple may get rejected as too impure to marry. Also North Indian decisions like this (hopefully) will galvanize Dravidian nationalism

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