In the centuries old struggle for justice and dignity, the question of women has always been at the centre, because in spite of forming half of humanity, they have always been wronged by the other half of it. Condemned as weak and inferior, their role was at most, that of being vassals to their self-proclaimed superiors. In our part of the world, girl children have been culled at birth, married off to old ruthless men at a tender age, confined to the dark holes of the household, made to suffocate inside the purdah, or burned alive with their dead husbands. A widow’s life, if she was allowed to live at all, was of utter humiliation and indignity. While men could keep any number of wives, women were ostracised or stoned to death if their eyes fell on another man. All religions were, and still are, armed with holy books which demand subjugation of women. Only protracted and persistent struggle and individual sacrifices of many could make some dent in the thick walls of patriarchy. However, even the enacted laws could not go too far and progress was more often than not, as VT Bhattatirippad observed, only a change from “jail to parole”. Polygamy, denial of property rights, verbal divorce without maintenance obligation, domestic violence, sexual assaults on any pretext, and trials by Khap Panchayats which award punishments like gang rapes to women, take place unabated even today.
That an incident of Sati and a glorification parade happened as recently as a few years ago shows us that the patriarchal mindset refuses to go away. That the reins still remain with the priests, bishops, mullahs and tampurans (lords) is demonstrated by the present hullabaloo over Sabarimala, a state which is regarded as one of the most socially advanced in the country. To these orthodox and powerful sections of society, a new class has been added —the tampuran of tampurans— the political class. This class, with the tremendous work force under its command and unquenchable thirst for power, surpasses all others. The sinister way in which these forces have pitted women against women in the present issue exemplifies the depths to which they can fall. This comes just after we witnessed an unprecedented sit-in strike by nuns against patriarchy in the Christian Church, and a revolt by women artists against male misdemeanor.
This politically manufactured revolt by power-hungry politicians, to which sections of the unsuspecting public have fallen prey, has been mistaken by some for a popular and spontaneous expression of discontent against the Supreme Court verdict permitting women’s entry to the temple. Similar instances from the recent past were the sati-mata processions in Rajasthan attended by thousands, and the enormous congregation of women organised by the Islamic clergy against the Shah Bano case verdict which granted maintenance rights to divorced women. Some intellectuals, like the current “Ready-To-Wait campaigners”, were swept off their feet by the force of these ‘popular movements’. It is obvious however, that if society had simply “waited”, sati would never have been abolished and the so-called untouchables would have remained untouchables forever. No religion reforms by itself. Reform comes from a push, not from gentle persuasion.
It is time to ask which god’s interests these charlatans are serving other than their own. Which mala (hill) do they want to climb (sans women of course!) other than the Sannidhanam of power? Of course, they seek to make this conquest of power along with their age-old companions – the tantris, mullas, bishops and tampurans.
The question here is not whether you are a believer, or whether you wish to visit temples. The question is whether you are being discriminated against and denied the dignity that you deserve as a human being simply because you are a woman. It was in this very Kerala that eighty two years ago, for the first time in India, temples were thrown open to another class of people branded as “untouchables” and reduced to the status of worms and pests.
Are you now trying to walk back the long, rocky and thorny path you have covered in these centuries? And that too in the company of a privileged group who have never stood by you in your days of trials?
Anand (P Sachidanandan) is an award-winning Malayalam writer. He is the author of several short stories, plays, essays and novels. His novels include Aalkkoottam (The Crowd), Samharathinte Pusthakam (The Book of Murder) and Apaharikkappetta Daivangal (Stolen Gods). Two of his works, Desert Shadows and Vyasa and Vighneswara are also available in English translation.
Originally published in Indian Cultural Forum