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India: Hindu fundamentalists up in arms to prevent women’s access to temples

Saturday 25 August 2018, by siawi3

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The Attack on Manushya Puthiran Is Proof the Rights of Writers, and Women, Don’t Count

The poet is facing right-wing flak for his attempt to win women the right to pray in temples and challenging harmful ideas surrounding menstruation.

Several taboos continue to exist around menstruation in India. Credit: Dominique Bergeron/Flickr CC BY 2.0

Sukirtharani

6 hours ago

In a society like ours, caste as an institution continues to build itself with untiring rigidity every passing day. Caste is also closely related to the institution of family in India. Family is nothing but a smaller version of a social institution that incorporates caste. Society is nothing but a magnified version of a family institution that incorporates patriarchy.

Just as ‘untouchability and impurity’ have been thrust on Dalits by the society based on work, it has been thrust on women by their own families. Untouchability and impurity are thus highly significant facets of the institution of caste.

To anyone who cares about social freedom, it is important to understand how ‘chastity of women’ continues to be fundamental to a family and how rituals of Hinduism keep a close watch over it. One should also understand the way in which Hindu rituals and customs are used as means to enslave women through untouchability and male chauvinism. It has become essential for every person who is looking to live in a free society to understand the importance of abolishing caste, Ambedkarian thoughts and the necessity of inter-caste marriages.

Controversy over the poem Uuzhiyin Nadanam (The Dance of the Apocalypse) by Manushya Puthiran has to be approached based on this background. There are hundreds and thousands of writers in India who are active at present and based on the motive of their works, they are branded as people who are either upholding the values of the society or bringing disrepute to it.

Social discipline refers to the acceptance of the rules and regulations along with the customs of a religion which acts as a backbone for the government and the authority without any reservations as per the casteist society.

But the language, culture and lifestyle of people are different and when the people in power are trying to homogenise or impose the rules and customs of a single religion, the social discipline is destroyed.

When the social discipline is destroyed, factors such as casteist discipline, which is part of the religious framework, is also destroyed which in turn results in the destruction of the government and authority which is established on this discipline.

This destruction of the society which keeps the government on tenterhooks is being done by the writers, thinkers and reformers. Their writings and thoughts will provide security to the society and make religious fundamentalists think that it weakens their position in the society. Hence the anger of these fundamentalists will turn against the progressive writers.

This is the reason why progressive intellectuals such as Gauri Lankesh, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar were killed by Hindutva religious fundamentalists.

Religious and casteist fundamentalism are prevalent everywhere and the communal riots of Gujarat and Mumbai are prime examples of this.

Caste-based fundamentalism has seeped through the subconscious of the society and this manifested itself in the Melavalavu killings which were done to ensure that people who are from the lower rungs of the caste pyramid do not get power and authority to rule the people from the upper castes. This theme is prevalent in the numerous ‘honour’ killings and also the long-standing issues based on caste dynamic such as the Kandadevi car issue and Sesha Samuthiram issue to name a few.

The threat to writers who question the government and authority on the impact of religion and caste is a challenge to the ideals of rationalism.

The resistance that is shown to religion by rationalists is, in fact, not resistance to religion itself but to the customs and rituals which are followed in the name of religion. The larger question is why customs and rituals of all religions are hell-bent on denying women their rights.

Religion prevents women and Dalits from entering temples, branding women as unholy in the times of menstruation and Dalits as untouchable.

Religious fundamentalists should understand that menstruation is natural for a woman, but casteism is unnatural for mankind.

When these topics, which are considered taboo, are discussed by progressive writers, it earns them the wrath of religious fundamentalists. It doesn’t matter if they are ‘majority’ or in ‘minority.’

Taslima Nasreen was assaulted on stage by Islamic fundamentalists for her works.

When Manushya Puthiran challenged the harmful ideas surrounding menstruation through a poem, a police complaint was filed against him.

The floods in Kerala are unprecedented and it will take years for the state to limp back to normalcy. The areas that are flooded include places of worship such as the temples, mosques and churches, including the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.

No one can predict exactly why the floods happened. But for a religious fundamentalist like S. Gurumurthy to make a connection between the calamity and a case pending in the apex court on allowing women into the sanctum sanctorum of Sabarimala temple betrays his irrational thinking.

That women are unholy to enter a temple during menstruation is a form of oppression that has existed since times immemorial.

The poem was penned by Puthiran as a form of retaliation to Gurumurthy. It is another question whether it is as poetic but the politics put forth by it cannot be ignored.

If we look in to this issue through the prism of religious beliefs, arguing that the Kerala floods were more of God’s anger about allowing women inside Sabarimala, it could also be argued in the same vein that the floods were a form of anger of Goddesses against the bigots who consider menstruating women ‘impure.’

S. Gurumurthy has made a connection between the Kerala calamity and a case pending in the apex court on allowing women into the sanctum sanctorum of Sabarimala temple. Credit: PTI

When this issue is analysed from a rationalistic perspective, all arguments made by the religious fundamentalists are nothing but based on superstitions.

So if this has to be explained through the prism of Hindutva hardliners, it is either God in the form of women or women in the form of God that unleashed her menstrual blood as the flood because of the denial of her rights.

Probably people like H. Raja and Gurumurthy should have written poems begging her to stop the fury by pleading for her forgiveness and since they did not write, this poem was written by Puthiran. In his poem, Puthiran has used Devi as a metaphor for a woman. Actually, his work merits celebration by Hindutva fundamentalists.

Through his Twitter handle, Raja instigated everyone to file a police complaint against Puthiran for writing this poem. The poet has since been threatened by Hindutva extremists via phone and social media. Puthiran has now himself filed a complaint demanding action against the perpetrators.

People working on the platform of social justice and reforms have often found themselves cornered on various counts including their religion and caste. Including religion or caste of a person who they think is ‘destroying the fabric of social discipline’ in their conversations is done by bigots with the sole purpose of driving polarisation and isolating the person in question.

Puthiran may be a Muslim by birth but he has never portrayed himself as one.

His poem, now apparently taken down by Facebook after reports, is not derogatory to women. It is, in fact, an attempt to win the right of women to pray in temples.

Many poets have chosen poems to express themselves beyond religion.

The late poet M.G. Rasul raised a crucial question when he wrote: “Thousands of prophets are there but why is there no prophetess?”

Tamil writer Bama and Sister Jesme – author of Amen – left churches after being nuns for a brief period when they found the acts inside the church unacceptable. They used pens to record their objections to church activities.

It is essentially the duty and responsibility of a writer and poet to criticise and question taboos that deny women their rights. Puthiran has done just that. It is important to stand with him now.

Religion and caste are like a river without shore on the other side. One has to travel a long distance to reach the other side where they are absent. But what else do writers have to do? Let us travel together.

My name is Parvathi

You came of age,
When browsing through the histories of women
Who had never failed

Blood oozes from the
Threshold of an expanded muscle,
Just as wild flowers
That has grown on heights of mountains

With your hands,
That have unearthed
The centuries of pains,
You remove the blood
And walk on.

The earth brims
Like a red Planet.

Washed in the pond
Across a dilapidated temple,
You menstrual clothes
Are being dried
On its flag pillar

After a long time,
Sparrows fly,
On that day

On the river where
Pious men with long tresses
Take bath and come,
You wash the stains
Of an early morning
Act of sex

The fish kisses
Your feet

I, the one,
With no body on one side
With only half vagina,
Gleefully dancing in the Sanctum Santorum
Am Parvathi

(A poem from the collection titled ‘Kamathi poo’ (The lust flower) published in 2012 and translated by Kavitha Muralidharan)

Translated from the Tamil original by Karthik Mohan.

Sukirtharani is a prominent Dalit poet. She has published six poetry collections in Tamil and is currently working on a novel.