Sabarimala Temple Controversy- Women Impurity? Or Gender Inequality?
Sabarimala Temple Controversy- Women Impurity? Or Gender Inequality?


The United Nation (UN) Gender Inequality Index has ranked India below several sub-Saharan African Countries. Despite rapid economic growth and development and laudable efforts to increase women’s socio-political participation, yet gender imbalance has remained deep and persistent in India.

When one speaks about gender inequality in India, it refers to Health, Education, Economic and Socio-political inequalities between men and women in India.

Gender inequalities and their social causes impact India’s sex ratio. The issue of gender inequality is a multifaceted issue that concerns men and women. Despite the fact that the Constitution of India guarantees men and women equal right, gender inequality still remain.

A typical example and also the most recent controversy in India’s gender differences is the issue of “women not allowed entry into Sabarimala temple to pray”.

Sabarimala is a Hindu temple in Kerala, India where women pilgrims of menstruating age (ages 10-50) were not legally allowed to enter between 1991 and 2018.

However, a landmark judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India was to the effect that all pilgrims regardless of gender, including women in the menstruating age group, should be allowed entrance to Sabarimala.

The constitution bench of the Supreme Court ruled that any exception placed on women because of biological difference is repugnant to natural justice equity and a good conscience and also constitutes a violation of the constitution.


 Why Women are not allowed to Enter Sabarimala temple?

Legend has it that Lord Ayyappan, the deity of Sabarimala is Celibate. That on defeating the evil demoness Mahushasuri, she turned into a beautiful young woman. She had actually been cursed to live the life of a demoness until Ayyappan defeated her in battle. Ayyappan could set her free after defeating her in battle.

After the battle, the young man proposed to Ayyappan, but he refused her saying that he has been ordained to go to the forest and answer the prayers of devotees. However the young woman was persistent, so Ayyappan promised to marry her the day Kanni-swamis (new devotees) would stop visiting him at Sabarimala.

Unfortunately for the woman, Sabarimala was visited by Kanni-swamis every year, and she was not able to marry Ayyappan. The woman is also worshiped today as Malikappurathamma at a neighboring temple.

Prior to 1991when, the Karela high court forbade the entry of women to Sabarimala, several women had visited the temple, although mostly for non-religious reasons. In 1990, S. Mahendran commenced a petition alleging that young women were visiting Sabarimala.

The verdict of the petition came in 1991 where Justice K Paripoornan and K Balanarayana of the Kerela High Court banned entry of women between 10 years – 50 years from offering worship at Sabarimala, stating that such restriction was in accordance with the usage prevalent from time immemorial.

However, some women choose to not enter Sabarimala believing that it would be an insult and aberration to the age-long religious practice, while others believe that Ayyappan himself placed restrictions on women entering the temple because he wanted to be celibate, and the presence of women of reproductive age group would distract him from his cause.


Women Impurity and Gender Inequality-

Popular opinions postulate that menstruation is not impure; women should be afforded equal right to enter the temple. Since women are allowed to enter other temples of Ayyappan, there is no justifiable ground for not allowing them to enter Sabarimala, such refusal is rather unusual and inconsistent.

To maintain that a woman is impure, based on the physiological process of menstruation, is the very height of gender discrimination. Gender inequality has been ranked by various groups around the world. For example, the World Economic Forum publishes a Global Gender Gap Index score for each nation every year.

The index focuses not on the empowerment of women, but on the relative gap between men and women in four fundamental categories – economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

It includes measures such as estimated sex-selective abortion, number of years the nation had a female head of state, female to male literacy rate, estimated income ratio of female to male in the nation, and several other relative gender statistic measures.


Global Gender Gap Report on Inequality-

According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2011, India was ranked 113 on the Gender Gap Index (GGI) among 135 countries polled. Since then, India has improved its rankings on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index (GGI) to 105/136 in 2013.

When broken down into components of the GGI, India performs well on political empowerment but is scored to be as bad as China on sex-selective abortion.

India also scores poorly on overall female to male literacy and health rankings. India with a 2013 ranking of 101 had an overall score of 0.6551; while Iceland, the nation that topped the list, had an overall score of 0.8731 (no gender gap would yield a score of 1.0).

Alternate measures include OECD’s Social Institutions Gender Index (SIGI), which ranked India at 56th out of 86 in 2012, which was an improvement from its 2009 rank of 96th out of 102.

The SIGI is a measure of discriminatory social institutions that are drivers of inequalities, rather than the unequal outcomes themselves. Similarly, UNDP has published Gender Inequality Index and ranked India at 132 out of 148 countries.

The cultural construct of Indian society which reinforces gender bias against men and women, with varying degrees and variable contexts against the opposite sex, has led to the continuation of India’s strong preference for male children.

Female infanticide and sex-selective abortion is adopted and strongly reflects the societal low status of Indian women. Census 2011 shows a decline of girl population (as a percentage to total population) under the age of seven, with activists estimating that eight million female fetuses may have been aborted in the past decade.

The 2005 census shows infant mortality figures for females and males are 61 and 56, respectively, out of 1000 live births, with females more likely to be aborted than males due to biased attitudes, cultural stereotypes, insecurity, etc.

A decline in the child sex ratio (0–6 years) was observed with India’s 2011 census reporting that it stands at 914 females against 1,000 males, dropping from 927 in 2001 – the lowest since India’s independence.

The demand for sons among wealthy parents is being satisfied by the medical community through the provision of illegal service of fetal sex-determination and sex-selective abortion. The financial incentive for physicians to undertake this illegal activity seems to be far greater than the penalties associated with breaking the law.

Female infanticide is the elected killing of a newborn female child or the termination of a female fetus through sex-selective abortion.

In India, there is an incentive to have a son, because they offer security to the family in old age and are able to conduct rituals for deceased parents and ancestors, In contrast, daughters are considered to be a social and economic burden. An example of this is dowry.

The fear of not being able to pay an acceptable dowry and becoming socially ostracized can lead to female infanticide in India.


Vices Leading to Increased Mortality in Females

Though it is gradually rising, the female literacy rate in India is lower than the male literacy rate. According to Census of India in 2017, the literacy rate of females is 65.46% compared to males which are 82.14%. Compared to boys, far fewer girls are enrolled in the schools, and many of them drop out.

According to the National Sample Survey Data of 1997, only the states of Kerala and Mizoram have approached universal female literacy rates.

According to the majority of the scholars, the major factor behind the improved social and economic status of women in Kerala is literacy. From 2006-2010, the percent of females who completed at least a secondary education was almost half that of men, 26,6% compared to 50.4%.

In the current generation of youth, the gap seems to be closing at the primary level and increasing at the secondary level. In rural Punjab, the gaps between girls and boys in school enrollment increases dramatically with age as demonstrated in National Family Health Survey-3 where girls within 15 – 17 years of age in Punjab are 10% more likely than boys to drop out of school.

Although this gap has been reduced significantly, problems still remain in the quality of education for girls where boys in the same family will be sent to higher quality private schools and girls sent to the government school in the village.

Rape is one of the most common crimes against women in India. Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 defines rape as penile and non-penile penetration in bodily orifices of a woman by a man, without the consent of the woman. In India, a woman is raped every 29 minutes.

Incidents of reported rape increased 3% from 2011 to 2012. Incidents of reported incest rape increased by 46.8% from 268 cases in 2011 to 392 cases in 2012.

Victims of rape are increasingly reporting their rapes and confronting the perpetrators. Women are becoming more independent and educated, which is increasing their likelihood to report their rape.

Although rapes are becoming more frequently reported, many go unreported or have the complaint files withdrawn due to the perception of family honor being compromised.

Women frequently do not receive justice for their rapes, because police often do not give a fair hearing, and/or medical evidence is often unrecorded which makes it easy for offenders to get away with their crimes under the current laws.

Increased attention in the media and awareness among both Indians and the outside world is both bringing attention to the issue of rape in India and helping empower women to report the crime.

After international news reported the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus that occurred in Delhi, in December 2012, Delhi experienced a significant increase in reported rapes.

The number of reported rapes nearly doubled from 143 reported in January–March 2012 to 359 during the three months after the rape. After the Delhi case, Indian media has committed to report each and every rape case.



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