I must admit that while the row over women’s entry to Sabarimala was going on, I was mostly a silent spectator. That was because I had no stand in this and I’m not ashamed to say that. Being an unapologetic feminist, people would have expected me to take a stand in favour of women’s entry. But I wasn’t and I still am not bogged down by any obligation that people attach to labels. Religion and rituals associated with it have only been a matter of passing fancy to me for the ambience they sometimes offer and nothing more. There was a time when traditions really stood in the way of women and the weaker sections of the society. It was a need to fight against those to keep them alive, have them survive, help them go on to succeed in life. But in this era, empowerment should truly focus on education and a safe, bright future for them, not on unimportant, made-up beliefs which are so past their expiry dates and only serve as a distraction to the true cause of empowerment. Unless of course, we are talking about rituals that hurt a living being. Honestly, anything else doesn’t matter in the bigger picture, for those who don’t take religion seriously.
For me, this whole row was nothing but an interesting spectacle where both parties (I don’t mean political parties here) had their moments of rights and wrongs. And I wasn’t ready to be blinded by or blind towards either of these because of a ‘stand’ I’m obliged to take. In fact, the idea of having strict compartmentalization for people is something I have never understood. “If you are a true female devotee of Ayyappa, you are definitely against women’s entry to Sabarimala.” “If you are a part of the women’s wall, then you definitely favour women’s entry to Sabarimala.” I have seen some very sincere female devotees who wish they could go to Sabarimala. I have also seen some women who are actively involved in any scheme for women empowerment, but feel that the legend of the shrine should be left alone and not interfered with. I believe that is how it works when people are not blind followers of anything. That isn’t and shouldn’t be branded as double standards.
There have been times during the row when I felt that I would really love to see a genuine, sincere female devotee brave all odds and boldly make it to the shrine and stand in front of the God she truly believes in. Legend or no legend, I felt that Ayyappa would admire the dedication and determination of such a true devotee. There have also been times when I truly wished some of those limelight-hogging ‘activists’ never make it to the shrine for how they were only out to prove that they could keep Ayyappa’s celibacy intact and took to social media to outright mock the religious sentiments (logical or illogical is a personal opinion) of a huge section of people, deliberately adding fuel to fire. There have been times when I wanted to kick some people for the kind of cheap talk they went on with in the name of faith. There have also been times when I felt bad for some devotees for believing too much and being pawns in the hands of multiple political parties with a not-so-hidden agenda.
Now that so much time and energy has been wasted in this by everyone involved and the state which was once an epitome of communal harmony is totally broken down by hatred, I am yet to understand what anyone has really achieved from what can only be termed ‘a clash of egos’.
When the entire row started, I had asked a question, very sincerely in fact – “If entry to one temple where there is a restriction for women is taken as the road to equality, women empowerment and aligning ourselves to the Constitution, why is it that no one is talking about the same to be applied across places of worship, irrespective of religion?” Even now no one bothers to address that because of the dirty game of petty politics and vote bank. So this being a start to the country having a uniform code according to the Constitution is still a ‘No’.
As I said, there was a part of me which had wished for a true female devotee who displays grit, refuses to bow down to any amount of protests and makes it all the way to the top and proves to other women that if they really believed in the Lord, no one can stop them from going to Him. What ultimately happened though is something I can never call a victory. No, I have no issues with however these women chose to go there. I don’t even know for sure which of the conflicting reports I should believe. Why I can’t call it a victory is because the whole point of doing this or seeing this done by others, for at least some women devotees, was so that they know someday they can also do the same without any fear, without worrying about whether they would be spotted and stopped by the ‘guardians of God’. I really don’t see how that goal is in any way achieved by two women who had to go along with the ‘Invisible Gorilla’ approach, as they call it. I can’t accept them as the pioneers of change and I can’t accept this as a spark of change because it was done for the sake of doing it somehow. What change are we talking about? From not entering to entering without getting caught by an angry mob? How is that empowering? Empowerment would be women going in proud of their identity as women and not having to hide it. Millions of women who live a caged life and don’t even have the freedom to make the most basic decisions for themselves in their own homes are still totally hopeless and this ‘victory of ego’ doesn’t even start to change that.
Call me old-fasioned. But I am a true believer of doing things you have faith in openly and unapologetically. I had once tried to be secretive and sneaky in doing something I thought was for the greater good. I soon realized that I was wrong. Unlike what Lord Krishna preached, the end should never justify the means. Because ultimately, the means determine whether the end is what you really wanted in the first place. Let’s just say that I still believe in warriors who proclaim to the world that they are not scared and fight their wars with the purest of intentions, face-to-face with their foes. I know, it is easy for me to sit here and write. I know, I am not the one who has to worry about reaching home unhurt after going about something like this. But as I said in the beginning itself, I am only a person who has watched the drama as an outsider and jotting down a third person’s perspective. So I guess I can afford to believe in Utopian ideals. And in Utopia, warriors are upfront.
As for the section of new-gen devotees backed by their elders in saying how they will stop at nothing to protect their beliefs or avenge their Gods, let me remind you this. A lot of extremist groups started off with the very same ideas and today they are happily wreaking havoc across the globe and being hated by anyone who isn’t a religious maniac. And that is exactly what the political vultures want you to become too. They will happily edge you on until they are sure there is no turning back for you and use it happily in all future elections. If you still don’t understand that, if you still find nothing wrong in your words and deeds and wish to follow the same path as those psychopaths, I pity your beliefs and I pity the God who most definitely wouldn’t want anything to do with jerks like you.
Also published on Medium.