On the contrary

Sabarimala: Can Gods Be Easily Tempted?

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Why everyone, including women, should avoid Sabarimala

Why everyone, including women, should avoid Sabarimala

The only gangster I had any acquaintance with was a schoolmate and he was not very successful at it. In college, he became part of a rough group and later went on to bigger things, once even appearing in a magazine photo standing behind an underworld don in south India. During those days, my memory of him is a chance meeting at a suburban railway station in the all-black uniform of the Sabarimala pilgrim. He regularly went to the hill come season time, but, alas, the faith didn’t help his career. The Mumbai Police’s encounter squad cracked down on the underworld in the late 90s, killing or voluntarily retiring most of them. Luckily for him, it was the latter. It took just a few police beatings and a stint in jail for deep-rooted, boring, middle-class values to reassert themselves and make a forced reformation.

Not that all those who go to Sabarimala are criminals trying to get a quick-fix detoxification of the conscience. Earlier it was largely a god of Malayalees, but in the last few decades, other south Indian states have become sold on the cult. You can be in a border district like Palakkad and see men, barefoot and balancing a small cloth bag on their head, doing a pilgrimage as a pilgrimage should be done—by travelling vast distances with great suffering. And yet, like my gangster-friend, doing it entirely for selfish pursuits, to demand purely material or physical rewards.

When enough people chase a superstition, it becomes respectable to rationalise or interpret it out of its bizarreness. All religions are successful cults. The question that women should really be pondering, as the Supreme Court hears a plea to allow them into the Sabarimala temple, is the pointlessness of going to a place where nothing but superstition rules, where it is so unhygienic that the river below has an e-coli bacteria count of 350,000 in every 100 ml of its water when the safety level is 500, where crowd- control is so abysmal that stampedes kill hundreds of people. To demand entry to such a place is like paying someone to give you a beating.

There is really no question that the practice of disallowing women of menstrual age in the presence of the god is discriminatory, no matter how much it is couched in labels like ‘traditional culture’. It is tied into the idea of pollution and impurity, which is at the very heart of Hinduism as it has been practised for thousands of years, the most glaring illustration of this being caste. But if a god is so narrow-minded as that, why choose to have faith in him and struggle to curry favour with him? A spokesperson of the temple came on television and said that the practice had nothing to do with impurity but that the Sabarimala god is celibate and that is the reason women are not allowed before him. That only makes it worse. What sort of a god would he be then if he is so easily tempted? And how powerful can such a god be that his devotees have to protect him by making such rules instead of him protecting them?

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