Sabarimala isn’t Jama Masjid: Why Left-liberals are wrong in projecting Kerala temple as symbol of gender discrimination

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Such has been the nature of Indian secularism post-Independence that any debate that begins with Islam, Islamism and Islamist patriarchy invariably ends up at the doors of Hinduism and the alleged Hindu discriminations, inequalities and inanities.

So, when the Jama Masjid administration decided this week to ban solitary and group entry for girls inside the iconic premises, it created an outrage in the social media. But, the usual suspects who would pompously preach Hindus to dismantle vestiges of discrimination in their religion, were nowhere in the sight. They uttered not a word for these poor girls, not a tear was shed on their plight! No one asked why girls alone should be punished for TikTok videos, or for using the Jama Masjid premises to meet their friends, as the charge was, when boys were equally, if not more, at fault.

The silence was so glaring — and disturbing — that even their traditional supporters felt betrayed. As one woman journalist posted a tweet, saying: “Shame on those who were outraged during #Sabarimala but quiet now .. Equal shame on those outraging #JamaMasjid but were quiet during Sabarimala .. #hypocrisy cuts both ways!”

Deliberately or otherwise, out of sheer ignorance or calculated manipulation, Sabarimala was back in the news. A sense of balance was created. “Oh yes, Muslims are patriarchal, they don’t treat their women equally. But so are Hindus.” When the Jama Masjid administration decided to ban women’s entry, Sabarimala found mention in articles on religious places that discriminated in the name of gender! With the Jama Masjid administration withdrawing the controversial order, one won’t be surprised if the usual suspects who went into hiding would come out all guns blazing, saying: “Jama Masjid is open for women, when will Sabarimala follow suit?” In India, whoever wins, it’s the secular agenda that ultimately prevails!

Sabarimala: A misunderstood institution

Sabarimala has been massively misunderstood. It’s not the case of gender discrimination, as has been made out in the dominant public discourse. Even the honourable Supreme Court of India, in its 2018 judgement, wherein it ordered the opening of the shrine for women, unfortunately, saw it that way.

For an uninitiated, Sabarimala would seem an open-and-shut case of gender discrimination. But then one would realise, if one cared to know, that there are at least eight temples in Kerala itself where men are not allowed entry. And there are many temples that allow both men and women to come.

The legend of Sabarimala will further explain why this temple has been a victim of misplaced activism. Situated in Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve, Sabarimala is a pilgrimage centre dedicated to Lord Ayyappan. As the Pauranic tale goes, Ayyappan was born of the union of Vishnu and Shiva. It so happened that Shiva gave a boon to a demon named Bhasmasura, to reduce anything to ashes by merely pointing his finger at it. Once he received this boon, Bhasmasura attempted to test it on Shiva himself. The Lord thus found himself running across the universe to escape the demon. Seeing his plight, Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman named Mohini whose beauty bewitched Bhasmasura. Mohini, then, induced the demon to dance with her; in the process, Bhasmasura touched his head and was reduced to ashes.

Ayyappan, at the age of 12, confronted a demon called Mahisi and killed him. Out of the dead body emerged a beautiful woman named Panchambika who had been condemned by a curse to become that demon. Impressed by Ayyappan, she wanted to marry him. After initial hesitancy, he accepted the proposal but on one condition: He would marry her only when there were no more petitioners left for him to take care of. Panchambika still awaits Ayyappan in a separate temple nearby.

This legend explains why Sabarimala is not anti-women, as is being made out by vested interests. As the story reveals, women of reproductive age do not visit the shrine simply out of respect for Panchambika, who has been waiting for her groom for ages. The other reason, of course, is they do not wish to offer any temptation to Ayyappan either, who had decided to remain celibate while taking care of his petitioners. The story makes it clear that the practice of women of reproductive age refraining from visiting the shrine of Ayyappan have nothing to do with menstrual taboos, as Left-liberal activists and intellectuals in the company of ‘feminazis’ would like us to believe.

Celebrating civilisational India

Instead of facing ceaseless Left-liberal condemnation, Sabarimala should be celebrated. For, it is the physical manifestation of the idea of civilisational India that celebrates diversity and challenges ‘monothetic’ equality.

“Those who insist that both men and women should have equal access to the Sabarimala shrine are advocating monothetic egalitarianism. Those who insist that there is no need to do so are arguing that just as the Sabarimala shrine of Ayyappan is open only to men, there are also other shrines of Ayyappan which are open only to women are arguing for polythetic egalitarianism. The main point to keep in mind here is that both these forms of egalitarianism are non-discriminating. It is, therefore, possible to argue that the real issue of Sabarimala is not equality versus inequality, it is really a case of monothetic equality versus polythetic equality,” writes Prof Arvind Sharma, an expert on Hinduism, in his article, “Sabarimala ban on women isn’t a black-and-white matter” (24 March 2021).

India’s Left-liberal intelligentsia would like to project the Sabarimala issue as a clash between tradition and modernity. The battle, in reality, is being waged against Hinduism, which by its very nature pursues and promotes timeless, universal, polythetic values. As J Sai Deepak, who has long waged the Sabarimala battle in the Supreme Court, warns in his book India that is Bharat, “…those who disagreed with me used words, such as ‘orthodox’, ‘traditional’, ‘anti-rational’, and anti-modern’, to caricature my position.” The same old, communist tactic: If you can’t fight the enemy, then discredit him and his ideology!

As I sign off, I have a personal story to share. Not long ago, my wife saw Sabarimala as a symbol of gender discrimination. She felt strongly about it — till she got to know the legend of Ayyappan. Now, her reverence for the temple has grown many-fold, but she does not have any competing desire to visit the place. As for Jama Masjid, she categorically believes women and girls should not be barred. That’s discrimination, pure and simple!

The author is Opinion Editor, Firstpost and News18. He tweets from @Utpal_Kumar1. Views expressed are personal.

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Sabarimala isn’t Jama Masjid: Why Left-liberals are wrong in projecting Kerala temple as symbol of gender discrimination
Sabarimala isn’t Jama Masjid: Why Left-liberals are wrong in projecting Kerala temple as symbol of gender discrimination
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