Sabarimala ‘purification rites’ violate SC verdict

Melsanthi V.N.Vasudevan Namboodiri closes the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple for performing purification rites on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Closure of the Sabarimala temple’s sanctum sanctorum on Wednesday to perform ‘purification rites’ after two women of menstruating age managed to enter may amount to using the ideology of purity and pollution to violate the women’s right against untouchability.

Though the temple priest, Kandararu Rajeevaru, explained that his action should not be treated as “any discrimination towards women”, the Supreme Court has clearly laid down in its September 28 verdict – which is not yet stayed and is fully operational — that any form of exclusion based on concepts of “purity and pollution” amounts to untouchability, a practice abolished under Article 17 of the Constitution.

Notions of “purity and pollution”, which stigmatise individuals, can have no place in a constitutional regime, the Supreme Court had held in its Sabarimala judgment.

The court made it clear that untouchability was not confined to practices relating to lower castes. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, in his opinion, expanded untouchability to any practice which amounts to “systemic humiliation, exclusion and subjugation faced by women.”

A five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi is scheduled to hear on January 22 the review petitions, including one by Rajeevaru, against the verdict which struck down the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age into the temple.

“Prejudice against women based on notions of impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion. The social exclusion of women, based on menstrual status, is but a form of untouchability which is anathema to constitutional values,” Justice Chandrachud observed in his opinion.

The court held that “regarding menstruation as polluting or impure, and worse still, imposing exclusionary disabilities on the basis of menstrual status, is against the dignity of women which is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The court said the menstrual status of a woman was an attribute of her privacy and person. The biological processes of women must be free from social and religious practices, which enforce segregation and exclusion, it said. If not, these practices result in humiliation and a violation of dignity of women.

“Practices which legitimise menstrual taboos, due to notions of purity and pollution, limit the ability of menstruating women to attain the freedom of movement, the right to education and the right of entry to places of worship and, eventually, their access to the public sphere. Women have a right to control their own bodies. The menstrual status of a woman is an attribute of her privacy and person,” the court held.

The main opinion, written by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, said it was “an essential part of the Hindu religion to allow Hindu women to enter into a temple as devotees and followers of Hindu religion and offer their prayers to the deity.”

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 11:27:55 PM |

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