Impurity and Indian Women

India Battles Menstruation Slur And Women-Entry Ban In Temples And Shrines

Indian women across religious and cultural divides are pitching against a discriminatory woman-entry ban inside temples and shrines throughout India.

According to media outlets, menstruation is the key reason for preventing women inside temples and shrines. Religious considerations in India render menstruating women as impure, so she is not permitted to enter the temples, mosques, and shrines during her periods.

Recently, three iconic religious establishments in India faced the ire of women’s groups on the women entry issue.

Women groups tried to defy a 400-year-old women ban in the Shani Shingnapur temple in the state of Maharashtra. Reportedly, more than 400 women tried to storm the inner precincts of the temple, where only men are allowed.

The Indian Express quoted, Priyanka Jagtap, one of the women campaigner saying, “In the 21st century India, how can you allow archaic mindsets to prevail? It is because of such attitude of the few, women continue to be looked down upon in our society.”

Haji Ali Dargah, a landmark shrine in Mumbai, attracts thousands of visitors from across the country and the world. Following the Shani Temple protests, a Muslim women group in Mumbai sought permission to enter the sanctum of the Haji Ali shrine.

Firstpost quoted a woman campaigning against the ban saying, “the shrine authorities gave ridiculous and sexist reasons referring to the dressing of women on account of which they decided to ban women.”

The group has filed litigation at the Mumbai High Court, challenging a ban on entry of women into the shrine by the Haji Ali Trust.

On similar grounds, the Sabarimala temple in India’s state of Kerala prevents entry of women past the age of puberty. According to the Huffington Post, “women have not entered the temple premises since the last 1,500 years.”

On the issue of menstruating women inside temples, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, the head of the Sabarimala Temple triggered a controversy, saying that “there will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ (not menstruating) for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside.”

The practice of preventing women inside religious establishments reportedly highlights a patriarchal mindset which considers women inferior and impure. This mindset then becomes a justification for women’s subordination.

The subject of menstruation is taboo in India. With media highlighting the issues, social media is awash with opinions supporting the counter campaign against menstrual taboos and misogynist mindset.

Artist Megha Joshi uses vermilion-soaked ritual lamp wicks as menstrual flow to critique the lack of religious reforms in India.

Nikita Azad, a 20-year-old student used Facebook and Twitter to launch a campaign with the hashtag #HappyToBleed and #SmashPatriarchy.

Under the hashtag #HappyToBleed, Meena Kandasamy declared the following on Twitter.

Another Twitter user declared the following.

Following the social media uproar, India’s Supreme Court also questioned the discriminatory tradition of banning entry of women of menstrual age group in the Sabarimala temple, saying it is against ethos of the Constitution.

Pitted against a cry for gender equity, it will be interesting to see if the Indian courts will succeed in addressing the issue of women’s entry inside religious establishments and the stigma associated with menstruation.

[Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images]

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