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“From my childhood I believe that those rituals should be saved and I don’t think those beliefs should be legalized,” said Radhika Nair, an economics postgraduate student as she emerged from viewing an art exhibition in Kochi in Kerala state.
She is referring to the centuries-old custom that barred women between the ages of 10 and 50 from climbing the 18 golden steps that lead into Sabarimala, one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines. A raging controversy has centered on the hilltop temple in Kerala after the Supreme Court lifted that ban, saying it constitutes gender discrimination. The order was seen as a huge step for women’s equality and a blow to entrenched patriarchal traditions.
But in India’s most literate state, lying on its southern tip, the view is far more complex. In towns and cities, many ordinary women, young and old, are vehement that temples are not the place to stage the battle for gender equality and want the traditions in Sabarimala to be left undisturbed. The handful that take a more liberal view prefer not to be quoted on an issue that has raised strong emotions – not just among political parties who have waded into the controversy, but in ordinary households.
Women of menstruating age are barred from the temple because age-old belief holds it would dishonor the temple’s deity Lord Ayyappa, believed to be a celibate. Vowing to preserve that tradition in defiance of the top court’s order, devotees forced the handful of women who approached the temple to turn back until two slipped in undetected with a plains clothes police escort earlier this month. As violent protests erupted, they went into hiding and needed police protection for days.
39-year-old Kanakadurga, who returned home in mid-January, had to be hospitalized after she was allegedly attacked by her mother-in-law and was later locked out of the house. She is living in a government shelter. Her brother has asked her to apologize to devotees. 40-year-old Bindu Ammini’s family has been more supportive and she is back at her job as a law professor.
On the streets of Kerala, not many are willing to defend the temple visit of the two and dismiss them as activists. 60-year-old Vijay Lakshi, who is a devotee of Lord Ayyappa, said that by entering the shrine, they proved that they were not genuine believers. Then why are they going there? As per our opinion women should not go to Sabarimala.”
Ammini told VOA she visited the temple to exercise her constitutional right to equality. “This is not question of activist and devotee. In India rule of law is practiced. All people in India have duty to obey constitution and other laws.”
But what finds wide resonance in Kerala is the sole dissenting voice on the top court’s five-judge bench that delivered the landmark verdict. Indu Malhotra, the only woman judge on the panel had said that “issues of deep religious sentiments should not ordinarily be interfered by the court,” and religious practices cannot be solely tested on the basis of the right to equality.
“I am not that much devoted to God, I am not that much against God also. I am a common person with all the feelings,” says Smita Subhash, a school principal. “But when we are living in a particular society, it is better that we have to follow the rules and regulations of that society, that is very important.”
Some point out that Kerala is home to a temple that does not allow men on certain days. Many non-Hindus also want religious customs to be treated as sacrosanct. “Leave Sabarimala as it was before,” said Kochi resident, Mary Bosco. “It is not the place for showing women empowerment. It is not a place to make problems, issues.”
Ammini feels differently and said, “Gender inequality is also part of religion” and needs legal redress. The man who facilitated her visit to Sabarimala by launching an online group for women who wanted to enter, Shreyas Kanaran, also asserts that equal access for women into religious spaces is an important facet of ushering in social reform. “We have to be patient. A mindset change needs time,” he says.
But it is difficult to find women who openly favor the entry of women in Sabarimala in a state where, although they are more educated compared to women in many other parts of the country, the hold of conservatism is also strong.
Two women sitting in a café say they don’t care whether women enter or stay away from Sabarimala and believe that more important issues such as rape should be the focus of governments and society. But they don’t want to be quoted because their husbands and in-laws would be angry.
The final legal word on the controversy has yet to be pronounced. The Supreme Court is due to hear petitions seeking a review of its judgment but it remains to be seen whether it takes a second look at the contentious issue or lets the earlier verdict stand.
Either way, strong passions will continue to swirl on the issue in Kerala, and for the time being, the voice of those who favor retaining the traditions at Sabarimala is much louder. That means for some time to come the millions of devotees dressed in black who head to the temple every year after a tough 41-day penance, will continue to be men.
Women like Radhika Nair have made up their minds. “We are ready to wait. I don’t need to go there between these 10 to 50 years.” (VOA)
"In India, to be born as a man is a crime, to question a woman is an atrocious crime, and this all because of those women who keep suppressing men in the name of feminism."
Feminism, a worldwide movement that started to establish, define and defend equal rights for women in all sections- economically, politically, and socially. India, being a patriarchal society gives a gender advantage to the men in the society thus, Indian feminists sought to fight against the culture-specific issue for women in India. Feminism itself is nothing but a simple movement that pursues equal rights for women (including transwomen) and against misogyny both external and internal. It states nowhere that women should get more wages than men, that women deserve more respect than men, that's pseudo-feminism.
Pseudo feminists state that women deserve more respect and rights, any other gender deserves no respect. They feel that women should be the ones ruling the world and at higher positions. When feminism takes a turn for extremities it becomes pseudo-feminism and people who label themselves as feminists will bash anyone who speaks against even the wrongdoings of a woman. They'll bash women who're wife and sisters for not speaking up and support any women criticizing political leaders even if it's completely irrational. This is where hypocrisy and pseudo-feminism merge with each other.
They take advantage of the rights given to women to protect themselves to threaten other genders. The rights given to women are supposed to make them feel reassured that they can reach out to the judiciary if their rights are being hampered not to threaten to make the victim sound like the culprit.
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Indian Feminist Movement has made significant progress however, even in the modern world women are still unsafe and are discriminated against when it comes to getting a job, land ownership, and access to education. While filling the official papers it is still asked "Wife of /Daughter of:….."
People in India still continue the practice of sex-selective abortion, abandoning the girl child, not letting girl child study instead they should learn household chores, they are seen as a burden to the family. Such injustices make feminism such an important movement, gender equality is worth fighting for to create a safe environment for women. Feminists over the years have been criticized for focusing on the rights of privileged women and not giving equal representation to poorer and lower caste women, which has led to separate caste-specific feminist organizations and movements.
Some notable milestones in the Feminist Movement
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against Sati Pratha (practice in which a widow sacrificed herself by sitting atop her deceased husband's funeral pyre) and child marriage
- Savitribai Phule started the first school for girls at Bhidewada in Pune city in 1848.
- In 1972, SEWA, the biggest trade union for women was set up by Ela Bhatt for women working in the informal sector.
- The Chipko Movement was launched and led by women in 1973.
- #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse was started in 2006 and revived in the year 2015.
People in India still continue the practice of sex-selective abortion, abandoning the girl child, not letting girl child study instead they should learn household chores, they are seen as a burden to the family.Unsplash
Feminism is often misunderstood as pseudo-feminism and hence, becomes the target for public hatred and is accused of wronging other genders under the façade of feminism. It is misunderstood by Indians as female domination instead of gender equality. Indian society and Indian feminists believe that only men are perpetrators of a heinous crime like rape and they refuse to even recognize the men who say they were raped and it's the toxic masculinity in the society that believes how can a woman rape a man? Reality is different from what we believe, women can be the perpetrator too, women threaten to file a case of domestic violence, or sexual assault against innocent people just to fulfill their ego.
Thankfully feminism and pseudo feminism are two separate concepts and feminism is just about equality and not judgment. Indian society and feminists actually need to understand the difference between the two and stop tarnishing the Feminist Movement as a whole.
Keywords: Feminism, World, India, Pseudo-Feminism, Gender
Kerala is a land of many good things. It has an abundance of nature, culture, art, and food. It is also a place of legend and myth, and is known for its popular folklore, the legend of Yakshi. This is not a popular tale outside the state, but it is common knowledge for travellers, especially those who fare through forests at night.
The legend of the yakshi is believed to be India's equivalent of the Romanian Dracula, except of course, the Yakshi is a female. Many Malayalis believe that the Yakshi wears a white saree and had long hair. She has a particular fragrance, which is believed to be the fragrance of the Indian devil-tree flowers. She seduces travellers with her beauty, and kills them brutally.
Yakshi idol in Veroor, Sri Dharamashastha temple Image source: wikimedia commons
The Yakshi is believed to live in a palm tree which can appear like a palace. Victims are taken here before they are killed. Travellers on highways are often advised not to stop near heavily forested areas, or speak to anyone who closely resembles a Yakshi. Some believe she can change form, while other hold to the belief that she doesn't. after securing her victim, the only trace left behind is body parts like hair, nails, and teeth.
They say, like other ghosts, a Yakshi's feet will not touch the ground. This is something to look out for. Mysterious deaths have been reported across the rural areas in Kerala, and all these have been attributed to the legend.
Keywords: Legends, Yakshi, Urban legend, Ghost, Kerala, Myth, Vampire
The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others. In India LGBTQ+ community also include a specific social group, part religious cult, and part caste: the Hijras. They are culturally defined either as "neither men nor women" or as men who become women by adopting women's dress and behavior. Section 377 of the India Penal code that criminalized all sexual acts "against the order of nature" i.e. engaging in oral sex or anal sex along with other homosexual activities were against the law, ripping homosexual people off of their basic human rights. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a portion of Section 377 unconstitutional on 6th September 2018.
But the question is, "was India always against homosexuality"? Has the concept of homosexuality being unnatural existed forever? No, in Indian history and Hinduism homosexuality has never been an offense, in fact in several instances it has been depicted how people embraced their identity, be it sexual identity or gender identity. Section 377 was brought to India by the British in 1862, while India was colonized. Even after the Independence, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled it as irrational and illogical.
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Homosexuality in Ancient India
When Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India, there was an uproar about it being a western ideology and liberalism. But in reality, homosexuality has existed since the time of the Vedas. The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) researched and discovered that it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as "Tritiya Prakriti", or the third nature. Ancient India not only made mentions of homosexuality but accepted it as well.
Hinduism is the most vastly followed religion in India. Hinduism does not explicitly mention homosexuality however it does contain a homosexual theme and characters in its text. There have been various instances in our scriptures and texts that have introduced us to LGBT+ characters such as the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati Ardhanariswara meaning "the half-female lord". One of the most popular and ancient texts on sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment of life, "Kamasutra" has a complete chapter dedicated to homosexuality and homosexual sex. Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities.
Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities. Facebook
Our Mughals were Queer
Mughals are often seen under the light of cruelty, rigid ethics, nobility, and polygamy. Simultaneously, Mughals are also the ones credited for the emergence of Sufism, abolished jizya tax, love beyond religion, classes, and gender.
In the Baburnama written in memoirs of our very first Mughal ruler Muhammad Babur, several instances documented Babur's infatuation and affection towards a teenage boy named Baburi. We also have multiple Persian couplets as evidence of Babur's affection for Baburi. Mughals engaged in homosexuality and pederasty, and they believed that later was a form of "pure love".
But as time passed homosexuality was suppressed more and more though people practiced it in secret if revealed they were punished. According to the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri Sharia-based text of the Mughal Empire, there is a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.
British Raj and Independence of India
In 1862, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex came into force. Even after Independence in 1947, the section remained a part of the Indian Constitution. There were protests all over the country to give people of the LGBT+ community basic human rights but it was not until 2018 that The Supreme Court of India ruled the portion of Section 377 has unconstitutional and struck it off. One judge said the landmark decision would "pave the way for a better future.". With Section 377 gone are LGBT+ people allowed to fall in love freely? No, people are still afraid to love because of the stigma in our society when it comes to homosexuality; they are seen as lesser humans.
ALSO READ: Significant Support for Rights for LGBTQ+
Although the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexual activities, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country. Homophobia is still prevalent in India, and homosexual children would rather commit suicide than come out to society with their true identity, that's how harsh of a world we live in. Lacking support from family, society, or police, many gay rape victims do not report the crimes. In 1977, writer and Indian mathematician Shakuntla Devi published "The World of Homosexuals". It was the first study in the Indian context; the book contains interviews with homosexual men set in the years of Emergency. She wrote, "rather than pretending that homosexuals don't exist it is time we face the facts squarely in the eye and find room for homosexual people." We've had small victories in our fight against homophobia and getting LGBT+ community the rights they deserve as humans, but we still have a long and exhausting fight ahead of us.