A history of patriarchy
History & Classics  
indiatoday

Let's be clear that Sabarimala has to do with a religious practice associated with a God who is considered to be significant from the point of view of the celibacy principle and this was historically the reason worshippers were expected to be 'asexual' over a period of time before they came to the temple.
 

 

What are we talking about when we speak of modern Hinduism? Let's be clear that Sabarimala has to do with a religious practice associated with a God who is considered to be significant from the point of view of the celibacy principle and this was historically the reason worshippers were expected to be 'asexual' over a period of time before they came to the temple. They had to take on a series of vows and so on, and it is in this context that they barred entry to women.
 
It is important to recognise that celibacy-driven religions tend to be more misogynist and sexist. If you're obsessed with celibacy, then obviously women will be deeply suspect. In the Sabarimala context, the celibacy dimension of the taboo is clouded by the fact that women are also deemed unclean. It's the menstruating women from 'age 10 to 50' who are barred. There's no philosophical or core spiritual principle here. No religion has made such a fetish of the 'clean' and 'unclean' as Hinduism has. It has been particularly biased in the context of women on the one hand and Dalits on the other. Now what does this have to do with your relationship to the idea of God? It is nothing absolutely, this is part of social and cultural practice which plays a role in determining how 'Hinduism' is defined.
 
Meanwhile, patriarchy is already in place and everybody is caught up within that set of relations in which men have power over women and men also control the world of ideas. Everybody cites the story of the Vedic philosopher Gargi and says, 'Oh, fantastic, there was this woman and she could argue with Yajnavalkya.' But if you actually look at what Gargi is doing, she is the only one, she is one of the six, so it's already unfair. Five men versus one woman arguing with Yajnavalkya. But it's only Gargi who keeps pushing the questions and, in the end, Yajnavalkya does not close the debate by answering her. He says, 'Shut up woman, otherwise your head will split into pieces.' Is this a fair debate? Of course, we admire Gargi for what she is, but we have to look at the story of how she was silenced and then she says, 'Yes, yes, you are the greatest.' So, in the end, women have to show that they consent to mainstream ideology.
 
There is a way in which the settled ideology says, 'Look, in our society we have always worshipped women' or 'we have a goddess tradition' but what's the relationship between that and the way in which women actually have autonomy and control over their own lives? Manu articulates it very clearly. He says: in childhood the authority of the father, in marriage the authority of the husband and in widowhood the authority of the son. Real autonomy is a concept that's unimaginable historically given the fanatic way in which women's sexuality is controlled by patriarchy.
 

 

Just last month, a college proposed a course to educate 'sanskari bahus'. What does this mean? A women's curriculum which is not going to challenge patriarchy but create sanskari bahus?

 
And yet women have always sought to have autonomy. I think of Akka Mahadevi throwing off her clothes and wandering around saying I don't need anything between me and the ultimate reality. But her community, the Lingayats, have virtually forgotten their own counter-cultural history. So actually no body of ideas can remain a challenging one unless you change the social structure. And that has a long way to go.

 
 


 
 


 
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