Caste verses gender: Why the patriarchy in India cannot be smashed without challenging Brahmanism


A Six Hundred Twenty Kilometer long human chain was created yesterday in Kerala against the attempt to communalise the environment in the state particularly related to the issues of Sabarimala which the Hindu organisations have been violently protesting against the Supreme Court order of allowing the women to enter into the temple. That even after 71 years of our independence, women, Dalits and others have to struggle and fight to enter into the temples is a shame to say the least.  What is more atrocious is the defence of those who justify it in the name of traditions. Women from diverse sections stood up hand in hand and created history, as claimed by many, against the divisive politics of the SanghParivar.

“The sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple was closed on Wednesday just hours after two women below the age of 50 entered the shrine. It was shut to carry out ‘purification’ rituals. According to reports, the sanctum sanctorum was closed around 10.30am as opposed to 1pm, when it is usually shut. Following an hour-long ‘purification’ ritual, the sanctum sanctorum was reopened just before 11.30am”, the newsminute website reported.


This is despicable and yet the priests have no shame. More shame for those who call themselves as ‘political’, talk of gender justice and yet don’t want women to enter there. It also proves a valid point that don’t expect too much ‘revolution’ from political parties. Social movements have to continue to put pressure for social changes as Periyar influenced Tamil socio-political life by deeply analyzing and exposing the wrongs of the Brahmanical system and at the same point of time giving a decent humanist alternative to the people.

Now, Kerala government is saying that the priests of Sabarimala temple Priests have committed contempt of the court while the Congress Party as well as the Bhartiya Janata Party has called for a state wide protest against the entry of two women. The state is now clearly divided between two political groups now with Congress and BJP defending the tradition while the left front taking the lead of ‘progressive’ people.  Prime Minister NarendraModi yesterday told an interviewer that Sabarimala issue is that of traditions. He went on to suggest that there are many temples where men are not allowed and we must respect that. Definitely, he forgot to mention that a huge number of temples do not allow Dalits to enter inside them but then there were movements against them.

Temple entry movements in India have been a source of events for moblisation and building a political movement. Despite all these temple entry movements, the country has not moved much in terms of respect for women and those discriminated on the caste identity basis. Swami Agnivesh fought for the rights of the Dalits into Rajasthan’s famous Nathdwara temple in 1988 and got international acclamation for the same yet even today Dalits entry into those temples is resisted. We had seen many other temples where the entry of Dalits is absolutely prohibited. Many stories have already emerged on Indian TV but we no such campaign as we found in Kerala.

Last year women activists fought for the women’s rights of worship in Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai and it was ultimately successful but this is a fact that most of these Dargahs don’t allow women inside their sanctum-sanctorum. Immediately after the Tsunami, I had travelled to Pondicherry, Tamilnadu and Kerala and at one of the most revered Sufi shrines in Nagaur near Nagpattinam in Tamilnadu, I found that women were not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum and when the Muttawalior priest allowed me inside the Dargah during the prayers, he proudly informed me how ‘secular’ the Dargah was as it has symbols of all the religious inside it. Suddenly, when he was giving the ‘prasadam’, I asked why are women not allowed then he responded that they are ‘dirty’ because of the menses.  This was a shocking answer for me but then this is a common thread among all the major religious of the world where women have been denied equality.

Temple entry movement never helped the Dalits. They can never challenge the brahmanical patriarchy because these women actually ultimately wants to be the part of brahmanical patriarchy. If the women have to fight against patriarchy or brahmanical patriarchy in particular, then, the only option for them is to revolt against all forms of brahmanical traditions. It won’t be possible as religion  or caste is much bigger identity than gender. Most of the women feel much comfortable in sitting and chatting with their caste fellows than the woman from another community. Ofcourse, they may say or take up some issues but at the end of the day religion and castes are bigger identities and uniting factors for all in our parts of the world.

The real challenge to Brahmanism came from two big movements for temple entry and both the movement gave big lessons to two biggest revolutionaries of India. The first one was the Satyagrah launched by Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Dada Saheb Gaikwad for the entry of Dalits in the famous Kalaram temple of Nasik on March 2nd, 1930. The movement was resisted by the savarnas and stones were thrones at the Satyagrahis. Baba Saheb Ambedkar was not the one who would have loved to enter temple to make people more religious but he was more interested to organize the vast untouchable communities under one umbrella, who he called Protestant Hindus but the way the Brahmins and other Hindus opposed their entry into the temple, Baba Saheb was forced to say that though I was born as a Hindu, I would not die as a Hindu. This was a big call and decision of his life which changed everything, and defined the Dalit movement in India.

We all know the historical wrong of the Travancore State against the Dalit Bahujan people.  The Dalit women were never allowed to cover their breasts. There were many roads where the Dalits were not allowed to walk. Temples were closed for them. Congress launched a movement against it but it never succeeded though it made Gandhi and Gandhian heroes but ultimately neither caste disappeared nor the entry of Dalits became possible. Periyar saw the hypocrisy of the Congress party leaders and resigned from the party. This actually resulted in his launching massive movement against Brahmanism and later forming his own Justice Party.

Both Baba SahebAmbedkar and ThanthiPeriyar fought against brahmanical patriarchy and punctured their arguments by exposing them completely. They provided an alternative to people too. Why should people go and enter into temples which deny them entry when we know that these temples are den of casteism, corruption, and ignorance. Baba Saheb might have said these words about our villages and the prevailing caste system there but it can also be said truly about our temples.

Today is the 188th birth anniversary of legendary Savitri Bai Phule, a Bahujan woman who dedicated her life for the betterment of women from all the communities. She gave them education, opened schools for the widows and talked about rights of them.  The big heritage of Bahujan movement right from Jyoti Ba Phule, Savitri Bai Phule to Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Thanthi Periyar, all talked about leaving the brahmanical slavery and embracing a new way of life which was more humane. They all spoke against superstitions, priesthood and caste supremacy of the brahmins. When I see the huge wall of women which is being claimed as a ‘revolutionary’ step, I wonder how many of these woman would join hand when a Chitralekha is boycotted, a Kausalya remain unattended when her husband who happened to be a Dalit is killed in the broad-day light in Coimbatore, and does not find friends to support her, or an issue of Sanjali who was burnt by the goons while returning to her school.  Issue is not here whether it is Kearla or Uttar Pradesh though they are contrast in many ways and none want to compare the two states and the level of understanding and unity of people. While we appreciate the women rejecting the SanghParivar’s attempt to control and dictate terms and conditions to Sabarimala issue and they are very much under their right to fight and reform their religion, the fact is, religions are man-made and unchangeable. The second danger is the attempt to portray ‘unity’ of all despite the fact the socially we are an absolutely divided society whether it is Kerala, Tamilnadu or Uttar Pradesh, Bihar where caste plays important role in our identification or association with groups and movements.

Feminists are overjoyed about but Sabarimala is not defeat of Brahmanism but establishing it further. It is suggesting that women can’t live without religion. When one fifty years back Periyar, Ambedkar, Phule and even Bhagat Singh suggested that brahmanical value system in India is nothing but absolute denial of human rights for Dalits, shudras as well as women, where was the need to justify the temple entry? We have seen how temple entry become an event and after sometimes things come back to ‘normal’. As I said, I defend Hindu women’s right to enter the sanctum-sanctorum of the temple but definitely it is not revolutionary as being projected. The revolutionary thing would have been to ask women that there is No God and even if he is inside the temples, he remains powerless, it is people who play power politics with these Gods. Gods and their chamchas have harmed the world, the most. It is time to call them bluff. Investing huge amount of money to ‘protect’ these temples or other religious places and wasting our energy on these issues is a  well laid trapped by the dominant elite to keep the people subjugated and deny them to think about them.

A big human chain for temple entry is no revolution. I would love to see Kerala and Tamilnadu, two enlightened states to make a big human chain against caste discrimination and untouchability. Let the people speak up against all forms of discrimination and pledge to dismantle hierarchical caste structures and that is only possible once we challenge the concept of God who are created by different religious elites to subjugate people. If Periyar could throw the open challenge in the 20th century and When Ambedkar burnt Manu smiriti or said that he wont die as a Hindu or Galileo could do it in the Christendom or some others in the Islamic world, why is it happening that the people who do not follow religion, are pushing their entry to these temples. It is time for us to keep the religion inside the personal domain of the people. If religion and its value system take our precious time in discussion and orientation, I am sure, we would not have anything else to do except to engage daily on the idiocies created by them.

Religions world over never gave any freedom to women. In fact, most of them punished women and made them second graded citizens and I am saying it for all the religion. Religions segregated people and here time has come in the 21st century to make these religions redundant and embrace enlightenment. Religious values will chain you in slavery of mind and breaking away from it will give you freedom to enjoy the modern values of life. If you feel that women are ‘dirty’ because they menstruate then religious values are for you. If you believe that all human being are equal and have minds of their own and can decide things about them then religion is not for you. It is upto you to decide whether you want to choose slavery or enlightenment, the choice is yours.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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