Since religion is a product of society, taboos may vanish with changing mentality, only if people open their minds to it
The Supreme Court order opened the doors of Sabarimala Temple for women devotees. Credit: Getty Images
We welcome the Supreme Court's Sabarimala verdict because it is time for religious taboos around menstruation to be questioned. Justice DY Chandrachud, in his statement, clearly said restricting menstruating women from entering the temple was akin to “untouchability”.
As a menstrual health educator, I always ask girls what are the activities they can’t do during periods. “I cannot go to a place of worship or touch any religious item” is the first answer we get in most of our workshops. We further ask them whether they cannot or is it that they are not allowed to do it. We tell them that once upon a time the practice of Sati had religious sanction, but times change and society changes and now Sati is no longer practiced.
Religion is a product of society and not the other way around. So, religious beliefs and practices will change. While questioning these religious taboos, we have to be very careful about not hurting religious sentiments, but at the same we make our point through questioning.
For example, Assam has very strong menstrual taboos and menstruating girls are put under strict restrictions. We have come across communities where menstruating girls have to sleep on the floor even during winter. Inhumane, isn’t it? These restrictions stem from religious sanction given by society to treat menstruating women as impure. It is ironic because menarche is celebrated with a lot of fanfare in Assam, but after the festivities are over the shroud of menstrual taboos take over a girl’s life.
The irony doesn’t end here. In Assam, the ancient Kamakhya Temple (one of the 51 shakti peeths in India) observes the annual menstrual flow of Goddess Kamakhya. For three days, the temple is closed in honour of the menstruating Goddess, after which the main temple is opened to thousands of devotees. But can a menstruating woman enter the temple? Though there is no explicit ban like Sabarimala temple had but if you ask a priest at the temple he will say ‘No’.
Let’s be honest! India is a religious country. If places of worship and religious leaders open up their doors and their minds to accept menstruation as a normal biological process, just like breathing, then a lot of our work in menstrual health will be done.
A few decades later, menstrual taboos might even die on their own. But, should we wait for that day? Religious taboos around menstruation often lead to practices such as segregation, which is a blatant violation of human rights. If a religion wants to be relevant, then its believers have to let go of such regressive practices.
Gender equality is not possible when women are treated as criminals for going through a biological process. If religions wants us to believe that ‘we are a creation of God’, then why should we call the ‘God given’ process of menstruation impure?
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