T N Seshan: Rights, gender and Sabarimala

The Supreme Court has said that women should be allowed entry into the Sabarimala temple.

Published: 01st December 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st December 2018 12:56 PM   |  A+A-


The Supreme Court has said that women should be allowed entry into the Sabarimala temple. Its recent judgment on the issue is based on equality between men and women. The verdict delivered by the apex court is being hailed by a section of people as a step forward for equality. The same section of people is also branding any opposition to the judgment as a reaction from chauvinistic or patriarchal forces in our society.  

On the other hand, another section of people, which is contesting the verdict, terms it an attack on their personal faith and even women among the faithful are coming out in support of this perspective, saying that the verdict is violating their right to practise their faith.Now, the ideas of constitutional equality are far younger than original ideas of tradition about how worship is to be done. This is not to question the wisdom of the Supreme Court judges, or their decision, but constitutional equality is a recent notion, whereas traditions of religion and faith are far older.

The argument is that men and women are absolutely equal.  Nobody questions this wisdom. But the creator, in His wisdom, has not made men and women identical. The tasks that men can perform, women cannot, and vice versa.  However much we try to force a notional equality, the two sexes are functionally different.  

Constitutional equality cannot make the functioning of the two sexes identical. Constitutional equality cannot make a man do the job that a woman can do and vice versa.The issue under consideration is not a question of equality between man and woman. The question here is of performance of certain tasks. Looking at it from the perspective of the faithful, with due regard to the way God has created man and women, and to the scriptures and the belief systems associated with the deity, tasks are enjoined on the faithful  by tradition to visit the temple under certain conditions.

Like most other rituals in the Hindu faith, there is no compulsion on anyone to visit—it is optional and it is encouraged. The task given to men is to visit at any time in their life after following the mandated austerities practised over a specified period preceding the visit. And though the task with similar austerities is also given to women, tradition has said that women cannot enter the temple, especially at certain times. The recent notion of constitutional equality cannot change this practice, which is much older and basic, rooted as it is in scripture and tradition.

There is no inequality in this context in the sense that all women are free to practise their faith in that deity. The holy place for this particular faith is the Sabarimala temple.But the faith also prescribes those specific tasks that are to be performed by the faithful.  If one does not have faith, he will not feel obliged in fulfilling the prescribed tasks.  And the person’s desire to go to the holy place regardless becomes anything but an expression of faith; in such an instance the person can be described more accurately as a tourist than a devotee.  

Rights are being demanded by some people as if this is about a right to enter a public place like a hotel or tourist spot.  If one believes it is a holy place because of his or her faith, then there should be no hassle in adhering to the way tasks must be performed, as prescribed to the faithful in the context of that faith.
For that matter, while stressing on constitutional rights-based equality for women on the same level as men, one can make a completely valid demand in the context of Parliament. It can be demanded that in Parliament or in our political parties there should be equal representation of men and women.

And nobody has been able to secure equality for Indian women in Parliament. Political parties and Parliament are crucial parts of the functioning democracy and constitutional rights can be demanded in the latter.  In contrast, the tasks performed for one’s faith are designed according to the God-given nature of man and women, in the context of faith in the deity, and these have been the traditions of those belief system for centuries.  Equal rights in Parliament and in holy places are altogether different issues.

It must be mentioned once again that this is not an attempt to question the wisdom of the Supreme Court judges, nor are we questioning the apex court’s judgment.  What we are questioning is the fundamental basis of attempting to impose constitutional equality, of trying to force equality where God has not made man and woman identical in performing tasks.

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  • A

    TN Sheshan is beating about the bush. It is definitely interference by SC in the tradition of the temple. If all are to be treated as equal in going to place of worship SC should have covered Mosques also. The judgement is draconian and to be condemned
    3 months ago reply
  • P. Sukumar

    The private life style of some the women who are trying to enter Sabarimala highlighting SC verdict is not worth reading. There is no faithfulness on them but cheap publicity.
    3 months ago reply
  • Lakshmi

    Well said. Sabarimala is not a tourist spot for anybody to walk in. It is a place of worship for devout Hindus. The judges lost it completely by examining the notion of equality purely in a mono theistic context. Maybe it is due to their education from western universities. Hinduism has thousands of Gods each with very specific rituals and practices of worship. There are restrictions on women in Sabarimala but there are other temples of Lord Ayappa without such restrictions. There are a few temples where men do not visit. Again entry is determined by the deity. It has nothing to do with equality. Even the food offered to different deities are entirely different. Modhak is offered only to Lord Ganesha but not to Shiva or Vishnu.
    3 months ago reply
  • Jagadeep

    Addressed the core issue
    3 months ago reply
  • R Sundaram

    Not sound argument. Visiting and praying at the temple have no relation to biological functional differences between the sexes.
    3 months ago reply
    • Vinod

      Do not agree
      3 months ago reply
    • Vk

      3 months ago reply
    • Mandaram

      you seem to have no idea Sundaram. Differences do exist. do you treat your mother and father the same way when they enter your room when you are dressing yourselves up.... have some sense. your ignorance doesn't mean the absence...
      3 months ago reply
    • S Raju

      Seshan ji rightly points out that constitutional gender equality can not be enforced in all spheres and the right to follow the traditional practices in the matter of faith also invokes fundamental right. There are so many Ayyappa temples around Sabarimala where women are not prohibited. Hence the true followers of faith including women among them endorse the restrictions followed hither too. Bhaktas who follow the strict celebacy practices have also the right not to be disturbed by the presence of women in the age group of 12 to 50.
      3 months ago reply
    • Pranesh

      I disagree. Sri.Seshan's reasoning is correct. Equality in faith
      3 months ago reply
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