Given the recent public attention regarding the bar on women by Several Hindu temples in India, it is important that we address each of the claims made by defenders of this long-held cultural phenomenon. When the “It’s our religion” argument is used to validate sexism, it often serves to be a particularly impenetrable line of defense, wherein those who speak out against rampant discrimination are shunned by their religious communities and their words are deemed to be “blasphemy,” which is why I would like to take this opportunity to debunk every excuse made on why the ban on women’s entry into temples is justifiable.
“You believe in the word of law and follow it. This is the word of God. In ways, our religious texts form a certain “religious law.” It is important you respect it.”
Firstly, let’s establish how dangerous this analogy is. The law and religious scripture are not fair comparisons. When was the last time it was required of a person to revisit religious scripture and adapt it to changing socio-political climates? Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let us assume this analogy does hold true. Laws are consistently adapted to be more inclusive and accommodating. If religious texts are to be held with the same gravity as the law, then they too should be subject to the same critical questioning and constant amendment as of the law.
“It’s not sexism. It’s tradition. We must respect that.”
Why is there a belief that these two factors are somehow mutually exclusive? Tradition is not an appropriate validation for malicious practices. Traditionally, people were often required to impale themselves with sharp objects as they believed that this allowed God to enter their bodies. Tradition is not synonymous to “morally justifiable” or “righteous.”
No one should be required to respect regressive and toxic traditions. To put it into context, historically it was acceptable to segregate individuals and deny their entry into schools and churches and public transport based on race. This societal practice is no doubt seen as preposterous today. Yet we continue to be stuck in certain patterns. Segregating entry into temples based on sex is no different. It is moments like these when we must ask ourselves which side of history we want to be a part of.
“Women who are menstruating are not pure and shouldn’t be allowed near God. It is disrespectful.”
If you are a believer of God, we can logically draw out that if God created women and menstruation, then he is in no way offended or perturbed by either. Female deities are plentiful in the Hindu religion. If one does not award them the epithet “impure” then why is there this blatant hypocrisy against the females of our society? Regardless, it shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t have to rely on religious interpretation or conjecture to identify the fact that barring an entire sector of society from entering a temple and practicing their religion is plainly abhorrent.
On a more scientific stance, it is worth noting that the blood component of menstrual discharge is the same as arterial blood. Hence we are either all walking casings of toxicity or this entire notion of “purity” is merely unfounded superstition. Scientifically speaking, menstruation isn’t impure.
“It’s not sexism. We care about women’s physical health and don’t want them to exert themselves.”
This religious tradition originated with good intentions and I acknowledge that. The original belief was that the walk to temples (typically situated in hills or remote locations) was taxing on women who were on their period and hence they were excused from visiting them. Yet today it has turned into a baseless, bigoted restriction. If a woman actively seeks out to engage in religious activities during her period, no one gets to determine whether she is capable of doing so. It is still her choice.
The existence of superstition cannot be allowed to render women subservient in our world today. Whether you identify as an atheist, an agnostic or a theist, it is of pivotal importance to have these conversations about gender discriminatory practices currently excused and protected under the guise of religion and continue to speak out against them.