The progressive conscience of India is chanting Trupti! Trupti!. After the Bombay High Court lifted the ban on letting women in the sanctum sanctorum of the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, activist Trupti Desai finally won over the debate to her side. With the verdict making waves across the nation, especially down South, we are all eyes and ears for Sabarimala, where a custom stands suspended between judiciary and tradition to open the gates for girls/women between age 10 and 50 to visit Lord Ayyappa, the bachelor deity.
Let alone the clamour from the socio-political-religious circuits, log onto Facebook, women from different walks of life are making their voices heard in a hashtag campaign, #readytowait, in favour of the eons-old custom. They have come in support with picture postings. A hashtag post made on Saturday by German-based Malayali researcher Anjali George was the trigger. Soon, it went on to win kudos from like-minded women. Accompanied by a status, she makes her stance clear that ‘Sabarimala is not a gender issue.’
“Actually I am a devotee. So devotion or bhakti is honouring the deity. In that case, rebellion and questions cannot be the mood of a devotee who wishes to get the darshan of his/her favourite deity. Nowhere in media could we see the voice of devotee women. Instead, some random people with no devotion to the Devata act as spokesperson of Hindu women, which is a sort of Classism,” Anjali speaks up.
“Had to ask if we devotees are that weak to voice our opinion ourselves that we had some alien entities speak for us. I transcribed that thought into the FB post,” she adds. Most campaign supporters follow suit that the custom is not about shooing off women from the temple. They wonder why setting an age bracket is blown out of proportion. Padma Pillai, one of the campaigners, had seven times visited Sabarimala in her childhood. Respecting traditions, she is ready to stay for another 15 years to cross the upper age limit to enter the temple.
“I’ll call it impatience. People do not want to wait really. Is this bhakthi (devotion)? Are they customers or devotees? I am biologically designed in certain way. I ovulate and I have no control over my body in my present age period. I wonder if God needs to adjust and give prominence to my need! The 15-long years of wait is nothing before my devotion,” says Padma, an entrepreneur. She backs the Civil Procedure Code that calls the sitting deity a ‘perpetual minor’ and questions whether it’s fair to violate the rights of a minor.
FB post of freelance writer Suja Pavithran, one of the lead campaigners
Some vague memories flash across mediaperson Lekshmi Shaji’s mind about the first and only visit to Sabarimala as a little girl. “I was of seven or eight years old when elders took me to Sabarimala. Nowhere in my memory is the image of catching a glimpse of the deity. So with utmost reverence do I watch the Makaravilakku on television now. It’s a matter of piety and I don’t think women believers would be ready to visit the temple even if the age restriction gets quashed,” she reasons.
Kavitha Niroop, an entrepreneur, wants to sort out other issues and ensure a better living for women than running behind trivialities — the reason why she is #readytowait. “I was born and brought up in Thiruvananthapuuram and have never been to Sabarimala. Perhaps, I may not visit even after the attaining 50 unless I feel an urge to go there. The cry to lift the age limit, I don’t think, interferes with the rights of people. It’s a custom. It is good if such a fight leads to improve the living conditions of women. No one bars women from entering the temple, after all,” says Kavitha.
“Let the believer women stick to their faith,” says T. N. Seema, former Rajya Sabha member and CPM leader from the rights perspective. “Based on constitutional rights, women shall not be barred from entering any place of worship. Irrespective of religious beliefs, they share equal rights with men in places of worship, which cannot be restricted,” she clears.