“Untouchability is a crime against god and humanity,” said the Mahatma, the father of our nation. And untouchability is a crime in India. But Sabarimala temple in Kerala has been practising gender untouchability long since by imposing selective ban on menstruating women and the quite positive and progressive verdict of Supreme Court on Sept. 28, 2018 put an end to this selective ban by rightly terming it religious patriarchy. But undemocratic male chauvinist protests and hartals prevented women from entering Sabarimala till Jan.2, 2019. In the wee hours of that day, two women created history by entering into the temple and having darsan. The priest of the temple, immediately after he knew that women entered the temple, closed the sanctum sanctorum for purification rites. And the right-wing groups observed a violent hartal the next day. The priest has committed multiple crimes. He virtually practised untouchability, by performing purification rites and violated the SC verdict which unequivocally says that any form of exclusion based on concept of purity and pollution amounts to untouchability—a practice abolished under Article 17 of the Constitution, which states: “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”
The many hartals and the quite deplorable practice of untouchability by the priest in the so called most educated state remind me of what Valerie M Hudson says in the book Sex and World Peace (which she co-authored with Bonnie Ballif -Spanwill, Chad F Emmett and Mary Caprioli): “A bird with one broken wing, or a species with one wounded sex, will never soar.” The book, based on statistical analysis of over 350 variables from 175 nations, unequivocally proves that peace is closely connected with gender equality, and the security and safety of women is an important factor in the security and welfare of every nation.
The umpteen hartals including the one that was observed at the very beginning of 2019 (the year which was declared anti-hartal year by the traders of Kerala on December 20, 2018) against a single issue—women’s entry to Sabarimala—show us how the so called most educated people prove the assumptions and arguments the authors put forth in Sex and World Peace right.
Those who think that women should never be allowed to enter Sabarimala, and observe hartal after hartal in the name of this issue are trying to sustain the wounded sex always wounded; the broken wings always broken. People who are against women’s entry to Sabarimala say that the women who try to enter the temple are not devotees but feminists and activists.
Such arguments remind me of the Norwegian playwright Henrick Ibsen who wrote the epoch-making play A Doll’s House in 1879. In the climax of the play, the protagonist Nora tells her husband: “I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are—or, at all events that I must try and become one. I know quite well that most people would think you right, and that views of that kind are to be found in books; but I can no longer content myself with what most people say, or what is found in books. I must think over things for myself and get to understand them.”
When the Norwegian Society for the Woman’s Cause congratulated Ibsen for writing such a play, Ibsen told them: “I thank you…but I must reject the honour of having consciously worked for the women’s cause. I am not even clear what the woman’s cause really is. For me it has been an affair of humanity.”
Likewise, Sabarimala issue is not a feminist issue. It is an issue of humanity, of wounded sex, of broken wings.
Let me conclude by quoting Sara Grimke from her Letters on the Condition of Women and the Equality of the Sexes: “To me it is perfectly clear that whatsoever it is morally right for a man to do, it is morally right for a woman to do.”
Sukumaran C.V is a political commentator