Women have been denied access into temples for menstruating for centuries. When their agency is taken away, for performing the most natural of bodily functions, we see the patriarchy seeping into what is seemingly the “holiest” aspect of society. 

I was 14 when I started menstruating. One of the first things that my mother did on that fated day was prepare a list of do’s and don’ts, of how to conduct myself around mortals of the opposite gender, how to choose sanitary napkins wisely, how to sleep without staining the bed-linen, and so on. One point in that list that seemed particularly intriguing was my bereavement of access to temples and kitchens during “those days” of the month.

As I grew up, all my refutations of this rule were repudiated with the claim that a woman is ritually ‘unclean’ during her menstrual period and hence cannot go to the temple or worship at that time. While my grandmother tried to validate this argument by maintaining that women in ancient times worked hard and needed to be given a ‘religious reason’ to rest, Aunt Daisy from across the street vehemently believed that the tradition comes from the Manusmriti, a textual tradition of Hinduism

However, many temples go a step further that my mother’s list. Since it is impossible to know whether a woman is menstruating, certain temples have banned all women aged between 10 and 50. Somewhere between engaging in heated arguments with my grandmother and making sarcastic remarks on how we needed a machine which would be able to detect whether women were on their menstrual period, I grew distant from my culture.

But it is not just one religion whose socialization harbors these abhorrent anathemas. A parallel can be drawn between Hinduism and other religions of the world which endorse similar taboos. As a girl, Noorjehan Niaz had visited the well-known Muslim shrine of Haji Ali. Walking down the coastline in south Mumbai, she would push through the throng to reach the inner chamber of the mosque which housed the grave of the 15th century saint. Here, showering rose petals on the green silk cloth draping it, she would seek blessings of the saint by pressing her head against the grave.

By 2011, as an adult, she was shocked to find the entrance shut. Now, the Ulema allowed women into the mosque’s other areas to pray but the shrine’s trustees had decided that only men were allowed inside the inner chamber and the reason for the ban was to prevent menstruating women from going near the grave.

B.R. Ambedkar was once asked why he was so passionate about the issue of temple entry for Dalits. The statesman had replied, “The issue is not entry, but equality.” It was inconsequential for Ambedkar that he, himself, was indifferent towards religion. In fact, temple entry was hardly the solution for Dalit oppression. What he did accept was the fact that denial of equal access to religious and sacred spaces is one of the most powerful tools by which an unequal society expressed and reinforced its hierarchies. He understood that this form of reinforcement had to be eliminated in its totality. More than 80 years later, on 26 August 2016, the Bombay High Court upheld Ambedkar’s views when it held that that denying women entry to the Haji Ali Dargah violated not only their fundamental right to religious freedom but also their right to equality and non-discrimination.

Disoriented with my culture, I had stopped going to temples in 2016. I had decided that if I am not allowed to enter the holy sanctums when blood and tissues lining my womb break down and shed from my body, I wouldn’t want to enter when the lining is getting made either. But earlier this year, an individual I am romantically inclined to led me into a temple despite knowing I was on the 2nd day of my menstrual period. He dismissed my protestation and assured me that “it was a most natural process”.

He made me realise that people have started questioning taboos entrenched in the Indian psyche. Even institutions such as the Supreme Court has time and again asked how a physiological phenomenon like menstruation can be a guiding factor for denying women of a certain age the right to enter and worship in a temple.

But challenges ahead are many. Despite the progressive stances taken by the apex court, in general, the Indian courts still do not have the judicial courage to take a stand in favor of women.

Therefore, the initiative for change has to be taken at the micro level actively. Forgoing social norms that are redundant and reminding your loved ones to do the same is a healthy way to challenge these deep set norms. 

Feature Image Credits –  Mordi Ibe Foundation

Vaibhavi Sharma Pathak

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Indian millennials and Gen-Z have been trying to uproot the culture of making bigoted comments in everyday conversations a thing of the past. Somehow, it seems difficult to call your elders out for the same, but it is important to do this if one wishes to live in harmony with one another.

The conversations around the dinner table at night are similar in most, Indian middle-class families. It heavily revolves around religion and minorities. It hardly matters if the parents are highly educated or amiable. They absolutely hate certain religious minorities and believe all of them actively engage in terrorist activities and that their religion teaches violence. They believe that Hijabi women are unequivocally oppressed and have no control over the course of their lives. Middle-class Hindus often declare how they can’t trust minorities anymore and engage in overt and covert bigotry by calling them names or refusing to rent out their flats to them.

Have you ever noticed how your mother takes out another steel glass for the housemaid and the man who takes out your garbage when they ask for water? The housemaid always sits on the floor while watching television while the other members of the family sit on the sofa. This is all casteism. Sometimes, your parents ask a person’s surname to know their caste and if that person somehow qualifies an exam or gets selected for a government job, they attribute it to the reservations in place for them. All of this reeks of ignorance and privilege.

Women are often subjected to misogyny by the society for every action of theirs. Older people in the neighbourhood, largely women can’t help but talk about girls who wear skirts or talk to boys in a demeaning manner. The middle-class impression of a gay man or that of transgender people has been taken from ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’. The public laughs at this representation of gay men or trans people, from a show which is infamous for its homophobia.

In 2016, there was a spate of attacks on Africans in Delhi and Noida. They were beaten up with cricket bats, bricks and iron rods for no reason at all. However, the government refused to call it a ‘racist attack’. The discourse going around at the time in every Indian middle-class family was that Africans can’t be trusted because all of them deal with drugs. So, they think it’s a reason good enough to attack them. Same goes for racial attacks on people from North-East. When they go to metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore, they are called by racial slurs like ‘chinki’ and are harassed by their own countrymen. South Indians are collectively called ‘mallu’ and face colourism.  Being prejudiced against minorities and marginalized communities has been so ingrained in us, right from the childhood that this sickening mentality has been normalized in our daily conversations.

It’s not easy to change the narrative around these subjects. Our parents grew up with these ideas and even if you call them out for their prejudices, they would ask you to shut up because after all, they have seen the world and know better. All we can do is learn as much as possible about caste, class, race and gender and recognize privilege whenever it benefits us. The next time your parents and relatives or neighbours make any problematic comments, calmly tell them where they’re going wrong. I am hoping this is how we’ll change our society and its thinking, one family at a time.

Feature Image credits– Indian Express

Disha Saxena

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India witnessed yet another consequence of placing faith in humans, pedestalising flesh and bones to the level of what we usually know of as “godly”. Our society is obsessed with living in a utopian world with immense belief in the idea of Godmen. The past turn of events has proved yet again that it’s not one individual who is to be blamed; instead blame it on our obsessive need to raise men to the stature of the divine. It’s like 33,00,00,000 deities are not enough for us – we might as well add a million more names to that list.

Time and again we are shown that Godmen in our country just use the façade of people’s faith to get away with things that they wouldn’t be able to get away with otherwise. These crimes go unnoticed in our country anyway. The likes of Gurmeet Ram Rahim have yet again declared to the world that it’s not reasonable to worship a man and hold him in unquestionable faith. What’s worse is that, we as a society remain blind to it, and ignorant (the one thing that we know best). What I fail to understand is how people can turn a blind eye to all the whims and fancies these so called

the mob, the bhakts that follow these self-proclaimed Godmen are ready to kill, ready to destroy public property in his name.  Recent events should definitely bean eye opener, a scary warning that its high time we stop placing our faith in illiterate, self-proclaimed gurus that are just there to exploit people’s naivety and a compulsive need to depend on humans to fulfill their addiction for faith.

It is time we learn a lesson this time before another greater baba comes and causes more colossal damage than this one.  It’s high time we realise that our faith shouldn’t be so cheap that it can be swayed easily and placed in criminals who claim to be the messiah of our realm. Ram Rahim came to tell us that not all caves narrate stories of the First Men, some are meant as the dungeons of those who disguise themselves as protectors only to commit the most heinous crimes. He isn’t to be blamed for those deaths; he isn’t the cause of their bandages. It’s us, who are solely responsible for letting these gurus rise above from dust and acquire immense power. It’s our misplaced faith that has led to a chaotic series of events and a history of blood soaked riotous years. I’m pretty sure, God, will not send a messiah to our rescue that hums to the beats of Love Charger.

We, as a society, should stir up to this wakeup call by Ram Rahim and realise that we will continued to be abused, assaulted, cheated, harassed, and violated, as long these babas exist and we encourage their existence. We need to stop trying to embolden these gurus and equipping them with power that will be purely misused without an alternative.


Feature Image Credits: Zee News

Rashim Bagga

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In a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, the judicial body has passed governance wherein no political party can conjure votes on the foundation of religion, caste and creed.

The verdict by the apex court was announced as a result of deliberations by a seven-member bench and was a follow-up to a petition filed in 1996. Seeking to retain the secular ethos of the Constitution, it takes into account the vague nature of Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act (1951) which states that appeals made by candidates on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language would be banned. The ruling is sought to shed clarity on the wordings, so as the conclusion to be a wholesome ban on the use of religion in campaigning practices. This shall have rippling effects on the forthcoming state elections coined to take place in UP, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur; three out of five states where caste politics is a major factor in soliciting alliances and votes.

In its functional representation, a wall is being endeavored to be built between state and religion. The Constitution ascribes India as a secular country, and this move pushes the foundational strength of that claim. It can be understood that by the rule of extension, elections should also be viewed as a secular practice. Thus, the aim was to embellish the secular character of India; a country which is characterised by its confluence of diverse backgrounds.

This judicial activism aiming to fill the gap between one of the laws can be deemed promising, yet is a long throw from being effectively implemented to becoming successful. Firstly, there is the argument of Free Speech according to which discussions on religion and caste are constitutionally protected and cannot be restricted. Thus, any party genuinely working towards the escalation of minority classes will find itself in a predicament. Secondly, the law has existed before, and only a certain aspect of it has been modified. However, its working remains inadequate since Independence. Thirdly, the implementation is a major hindrance which needs to be entangled. Appealing for votes by pulling the banned strings is not done in the open, and is subtle in approaching voters which may prove to be hard to monitor. Fourthly, this controversial move can prove to be an advantage for BJP as it lobbies for Hindus and Hindutva particularly, which the Supreme Court in 1995 ruled as ‘a way of life’ and not a religion, and thus handing them a rabbit’s escape.

The apex court’s ruling is plausible for national reasons but unfortunately is also rigged with loopholes which might result in it being one of the forgotten laws of the land.

Image Credits: International Business Times

Saumya Kalia

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Caucus, the group discussion forum at Hindu College organized Vaktavya – the 6th annual group discussion festival on 25-26th March. The festival was scheduled to have bilingual group discussions and baithaks.

 “Banning the burqua: Can women’s rights trump religion”

For Day 1, “Banning the burqua: Can women’s rights trump religion” was the discussed topic for conventional group discussion (GD). Discussion was moderated by Caucus members. Arushi Walecha was the Chairperson for the discussion and Pratishtha Mahajan sat as the Rapporteur. Each participant during the discussion was allowed to present his or her views and each opinion was recorded with the moderators. Mohammed Ziyad Ansari, a participant in the course of discussion remarked, “Islamic religious books not only talk about hijab (burqua) for women but for men as well. The purpose of hijab is not only covering one’s self, but also to show respect, lower the case and guard modesty.”

After 60 minutes of bilingual discussion, moderation and recording of views, the group came out with a common solution which mentioned that whether burqua or not, depends on the individuals choice. Ziyad also added that, “It should be the woman who should choose. We should keep in mind that Quran doesn’t impose burqua on anyone, it presents a choice.” The group also felt that, in the west there are many predetermined notions about these women who wear burquas. So someone who hasn’t experienced it or someone who doesn’t have full knowledge of the same has no right to condemn this system. Raja was adjudged the winner for this round of discussion.

“Is secularism irrelevant in the current Indian political context?”

Baithak at Vaktavya conducted a discussed on, “Is secularism irrelevant in the current Indian political context?” Baithak is an open discussion where no one moderates the discussion. Instead, a peer evaluation system is followed where the whole group evaluates other speakers and a best speaker is declared. This was also a bilingual discussion on what secularism is defined and understood as. The group also discussed about whether secularism as an issue is relevant in political discourse.

Baithak that was conducted for over one hour came out with the conclusion that despite the current political emphasis on development and economics, secularism still remains an agenda. Sandeep Singh, a baithak participant mentions, “Secularism stands on a proposition that religion and government state should be separated. But this agenda of secularism influences our perception of the political parties and candidates participating in the elections.” Sandeep was also declared the winner of this baithak session by his co-participants.

“Should schools teach – virginity is not a virtue”

On the second day, baithak‘s discussion revolved around the topic – “Should schools teach – virginity is not a virtue.” After 70 minute exercise of presenting their views, the group unanimously decided that virginity should be based on individuals perception and not as a universal virtue. Aishwarya Puri, the winner of this baithak round mentions, “Virginity should not be taught in schools, because when virginity is associated with a term like virtue, it becomes subjective.” A few members of the group also  presented their opinions on why this subject of virginity should be a part of school teachings.

 “Realism v/s Escapism : Does cinema need a purpose”

The last discussion at the festival had Nimisha Kawatra and Nishtia Khattar moderating the discussion as Chairperson and Rapporteur respectively. The topic, “Realism v/s Escapism : Does cinema need a purpose” had mixed views coming in from the participants. According to the members of the group, cinema works both ways. On one hand, it is a chute to propel one into another world for two hours and on the other, it can ground someone more firmly into the reality and enable him or her to see past the illusions of the society. Sandeep, who also bagged the first prize at baithak of secularism, was declared the winner for this discussion as well.

Vaktavya came to an end with screening of a short film called The Naturalist by Connor Hurley for all the Caucus members.