The latest issue of Frontline has put women’s equality on the cover. India, which dreams of being a political superpower, is still paradoxically grappling with discriminations of all sorts: caste, religion, gender, language, and what not. We still have religious leaders like Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Dwarkapeeth in Gujarat, who preach such claptrap as that the recent firework accident in a Kerala temple occurred because of the people who demand equality for women with respect to temple entry. We have political leaders like Pankaja Munde, Women and Child Development Minister of Maharashtra, who uphold the discrimination in the name of “tradition.”
|The Dancing Girl|
How long should we let ignorance and falsehood dominate religion? The Shankaracharya’s teaching is sheer falsehood while the Minister’s reveals ignorance. Both falsehood and ignorance have played a significant role in religion throughout its history. Most religious teachings go against plain logic and the findings of science. Many scientists and philosophers have sacrificed their lives on the altars of gods with grotesque shapes. More terrifying, the sacrificial killers are venerated as saints in many religions.
Traditions can (and should, in most cases) change as time changes. In her Frontline article, Prof R. Mahalakshmi shows how even the Buddha was willing to change traditions with necessary conditions. When some women wished to become monks, the Buddha did not initially relent. He had reasons like the presence of too many women might attract robbers and other offenders. However, he did relent eventually making necessary changes in the rules and doctrines.
Women were restricted from many places in the past for various reasons. Sabarimala, for example, was not a place where women could climb safely in those ancient days. It was a dangerous forest on a rugged hill. Today Sabarimala is a totally different place. There is no risk involved in the ascent. So why should women be dismissed from the presence of the deity? Tradition, again. The deity there is a confirmed bachelor! Lord Ayyappa who overcame various temptations during his life and faced severe challenges with the courage of a warrior must be blushing with shame when his vulnerability vis-à-vis menstruating women is being projected as a tradition.
It is up to India, the projected Superpower, to decide how long it is going to let ignorance and falsehood dominate its religion. As Prof Mahalakshmi points out in her article (cited above), it is more about exploitation of certain sections than mere ignorance and falsehood. And it is not only religion that is being employed in that exploitative process in India today. There is a whole political and economic system that is turning out to be grossly discriminatory and exploitative.