Blitzkreig: Children Of Eternal Bliss
The Manu Samhita or Manusmriti – at times referred to as Manav Dharma Shastra – is perhaps the earliest metrical work on Brahminical Dharma (here Dharma means duty, and not religion) in Hinduism. As per the Hindu mythology, Manusmriti is the word of Brahma (the creator in Hinduism) and is classified as the most authoritative statement on Dharma. The scripture consists of 2,690 verses and is divided into 12 chapters. It is widely believed that the actual human author of this compilation used the eponym ‘Manu’, the first human being and the first king in the Indian tradition.
In Manu Samhita, the author wrote that until a woman’s menstruation has ceased to flow (some say this is after the third day, while others say after the fifth, seventh or even ninth day), her body is ‘impure’. Manu discouraged women to perform prayer during this period. He further instructed menstruating women not to enter temples or to cook, saying that women should be kept separately from those in the rest of the village. Manu not only described the female body as the gateway to hell, but also said that “a woman does not deserve to be independent”! Manu even held that a father not arranging the marriage of a menstruating daughter is to be damned; a husband cohabiting with a menstruating wife is to be damned and a son – who fails to look after a widowed mother – is to be damned, too.
The followers of Hinduism – who consider Manu as the progenitor of the current humanity – banned women devotees of menstruating age from entering Sabarimala temple in southern Indian province of Kerala in 1991, arguing that the move was aimed at respecting the celibate nature of the deity in this temple. However, the Supreme Court of India ruled in September 2018 that all pilgrims – regardless of gender (including women in the menstruating age group) – should be allowed entrance to Sabarimala. The Constitution Bench of the Apex Court also held that any exception placed on women because of biological differences violates the Constitution – that the ban violates the Right to Equality under Article 14 and Freedom of Religion under Article 25. Unfortunately, the verdict led to protests by people who oppose it. Several women tried to enter Sabarimala, despite threats of physical assault against them, but failed. Two women – belonging to the previously barred age group – finally entered the temple on January 2, 2019, following which the temple was closed and reopened after ‘purification’ rituals. As expected, these incidents hurt many Indians.
The fact is that only menstruating women can save the creation by carrying babies! So, it is felt that the religious atrocity on menstruating women is ridiculous.
Noted social reformers – like Raja Rammohan Roy (May 22, 1772-September 27, 1833), Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (September 26, 1820-July 29, 1891), Swami Vivekananda (January 12, 1863-July 4, 1902), Sister Nivedita (October 28, 1867-October 13, 1911), Jyotirao Phule (April 11, 1827-November 28, 1890), Savitribai Phule (January 3, 1831-March 10, 1897), Begum Sakhawat Rokeya (December 9, 1880-December 9, 1932) and others – had waged a war against these medieval ideas in the 18th and 19th Centuries. May be, it was easier for them to oppose the ideas as they were born in a different era when the politics of religion didn’t exist in India! The wide range of superstitions prompted Roy – considered as the ‘Father of the Indian Renaissance‘ – to found ‘Brahmo Samaj’ in 1828. In-spite of being a high-class Brahmin, Roy initiated the movement in order to expose the religious hypocrisies, as he was against idol worship and orthodox Hindu rituals. Brahmo Samaj is the societal component of Brahmoism, which began as a monotheistic reformist movement of the Hindu religion that appeared during the ‘Bengal Renaissance’. The movement failed to taste success because of superstitions, which still have immense strength in the Indian society!
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak (April 15, 1469-September 22, 1539), had declared a jihad against such superstitions. He condemned the practice of treating women as impure while menstruating, making it very clear that the menstrual cycle is a ‘God given process’. (Guru Granth Sahib; pp 1013). Guru Nanak also said: “If one accepts the concept of women being impure in those days (when she goes through life giving cycle), then there is impurity in everything.” (Guru Granth Sahib; pp 472) Unlike the 21st Century Indians, Guru Nanak didn’t consider menstruation as a taboo! In fact, Sikhism is the only religion which views these female bodily functions as ‘natural body functions’ and imposes no restriction on menstruating women.
The Sabarimala Temple
Each and every religious ritual is aimed at protecting the human race. However, some religious clergymen, with vested interests, use various rituals in different ways and advise their followers to consider menstruation – the natural biological process of a female body – as a taboo!
Now, the question is whether the menstruating women have the right to enjoy the ‘Freedom of Religion’, a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India…
Even in the 21st Century, the Indian society is divided in two: men and women! Women are the most exploited and oppressed section of the Indian society, despite the fact that most of the customs in India are women-centric.
The human civilisation created customs in order to encourage the fertility or productivity. From the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation to the Egyptian Civilisation, the base of the society was agriculture. Those civilisations used to describe menstruation as the completion of a woman’s journey towards femininity. Both the civilisations compared the menstruating women with fertile lands! In ancient Indian and Egypt, the growth of population and the production of crops were considered as important achievements.
The ancient Indian literatures – like the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Puranas – placed women at the top of the social structure. One comes across references to lady sages, like Gosha, Apala, Lopamudra, Indranni, Gargi, Maitreyi and others. Gradually, the society and the ruling classes started depriving the women of their basic rights. With free market economy being established on a solid ground, women have turned into commodity, in a way! It may be seen that the modern Indian society imposes tortuous restrictions on women in the pretext of religious customs! Still, women are considered as consumer goods and children-producing machines, sans their individuality and quality!
The Sabarimala movement (seemingly) should be considered as a war against this discrimination or an attempt by women to snatch their basic rights from the patriarchal society. However, it’s not possible for the movement to ensure women’s empowerment. For that, we need to be the ‘children of eternal bliss’ in a ‘broad-minded’ society!
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