Equality before Law: Supreme Court’s Ruling on Sabarimala and Adultery

by September 29, 2018 0 comments

Sabarimala TempleWhile the rulings of the apex court on adultery and allowing women into Sabarimala temple upheld gender equality, they raise a serious question.

Now that the jubilation over two progressive rulings of the Supreme Court on a woman’s rights — one upholding her sexual autonomy and the other allowing her to enter Sabarimala as a devotee — has subsided, we need to answer a bigger question. Why do we need the highest judicial authority of the land to lay down the code of societal evolution and dynamism when we should be reforming practices and executing them ourselves? Why are we still hesitant to acknowledge that we need to look at women as they are without being referenced by the patriarchal gaze, be it social or religious?

Take the case of the Sabarimala shrine, whose keepers so far banned 10-50 year old women from entering a shrine whose patron god was celibate, implying that menstruation and procreation was a vice rather than virtue. It also defined physical superiority and austerity as qualifying standards for men to monopolise godliness when devotion and faith is a soul concern, irrespective of gender orientations. Question is while male servitors appropriated primacy by unequal means and solidified it as an ordained custom, Lord Ayyappa himself as a fountainhead of divinity would not have discriminated between his people.

Such has been the sanctity of a practice rooted in tradition that even Judge Indu Malhotra presented a dissenting note, wondering if the ban should be respected as the ritualistic right of a sect to keep to its customs as a secular allowance. Which is why this ruling is important because it rescues the worth of Hinduism as a dynamic religion that sustains through time and reminds us of a 5,000-year-old living tradition and philosophy that has always given women the right of way. Its pantheon has always prided the sacredness of both the masculine and feminine as essential attributes of spiritual enlightenment and have made women the originator of shakti.

Our early Vedic texts are replete with examples of women scholars and priests. It is true that the egalitarian ways were later radicalised but that doesn’t mean we cannot course-correct and get back our civilisational worth.

The other row about decriminalising adultery has raised the hackles of the moral police till the court reminded us that a modern, democratic society by its very nature should not define private lives or morality which is essentially an infringement of personal liberties and an assumption that a woman’s sexual rights are confined by her husband who decides what is best for her as a chattel.

A lover being incarcerated by an affected husband, simply because he is avenging his wife’s transgressions, is more about a base revenge drama than looking at the real issue of marital failure which leads both men and women to seek solace outside their marriage. Would criminalising it in a gender-neutral manner, as some activists argue, making women as culpable as men solve the discord or merely push it under the carpet? Most modern societies have decriminalised extra-marital behaviour which truth be hold still cries for definition. Would a straying heart or lustful eye not amount to adultery?

As ex-US President Jimmy Carter once said, “I’ve looked on many women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. God knows I will do this and forgives me.” Besides, it is still a legitimate reason for seeking divorce if both parties decide that is where they want to go to become better individuals, not hypocritical ones. A secular state has to, in the end, enforce constitutional values of gender equality over religious discrimination or laws.

Writer  & Courtesy: The Pioneer

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