A blow for gender equality in worship

Women had to fight for centuries to get basic rights.

In a sensational month of significant verdicts, the Supreme Court has struck phenomenal blows for gender justice, freedom of choice in sexual matters and women’s rights. In one stroke Friday, the judges delivered the coup de grace, wiping away centuries of patriarchal prejudice over a ban on entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala’s Periyar tiger reserve. Discrimination against a majority of women, between 10 and 50, had persisted even when modernity suggested there was no logic in keeping females out like this. Devotion can’t be subject to gender bias, that too based solely on the menstruation factor, without which women can’t fulfil their reproductive functions. Attempts were made to convert this into a matter of faith, but such prejudice was clearly man-made in the form of belief in legends, not inherited from ancient texts and treatises. Such a ban simply had to go.

Women had to fight for centuries to get basic rights. On attaining Independence, India was enlightened enough to grant universal suffrage. We were able to straightaway empower women, so the existence of such blatant discrimination in other areas, particularly over worship in at least some religions, was totally incompatible with the foundational principles of gender equality. Such inequity was frowned upon in a couple of cause célèbre suits in Maharashtra, where rulings allowed women’s entry into the Shingnapur Shani temple and Haji Ali. The Sabarimala verdict goes deeper, at least in the sense that the practice was centuries old and vested interests, accustomed to gender-based privilege, were at work against equality so much that a theological resolution was never made possible. Those who rail against the court ruling on religious matters would do well to reflect how much better it would have been if men set superstition aside and themselves decided to allow gender justice.

It is somewhat bizarre that the sole dissenting view came from a woman judge who expressed the opinion that an “equality doctrine can’t override the fundamental right to worship”. She also wrote that “notions of rationality can’t be brought into matters of religion”, but it’s a difficult view to accept. The laws of religion were also written by men and introduction of the notion of women’s inferiority could only have been rendered by man. Gender discrimination is historical baggage inherited from the dominance of males in society. Women have carried the burden of being called “the weaker sex”, but have proved in these tumultuous times that they are no less. To accept this would be the graceful route out to an emancipated society. The nation’s highest judges, who are enhancing the reputation of the Supreme Court with their vibrant and dynamic views, have also shown a willingness to rule on complicated issues. They have shown us the way.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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