Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Hindu value system – the victim of the two judgements.

Published in PGurus on 3rd October 2018.

The two recently passed judgements by the Supreme Court of India, one on adultery and the other on the entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple are supposed to have set right the wrongs done to women. The first one has decriminalised adultery for the sake of ‘gender neutrality’,  for, now the woman committing adultery is released from the clutches of her husband as her paramour no longer requires the permission of her husband to commit adultery! So the judgement has relieved the woman from being treated as the property of the man. The second judgement is said to have ensured ‘gender equality’ by eliminating a discrimination against women imposed by patriarchal religious practice.

The media is agog with stories for and against these two judgements but what is missed out is that both the judgements have trampled upon the value system of majority of people of this country. Experts would come out with jargons and judicial terms to support the judgements, but as a lay person I would say that any judgement should be representative of the value system of the country. It is to protect these value systems we have the judiciary and not to derail them.

The value system at the receiving end in the adultery verdict is the age old and still continuing concept of the marriage oath in the Hindu society which is centred on “Saptapadi”, the seven steps. The man and the woman enter into lifelong commitment to each other by taking seven vows in seven steps in which the 3rd vow is on fidelity to each other. The completion of the seven steps with seven vows makes the marriage legal in the Hindu society. One of the vows being fidelity, adultery committed by any one of the two must be considered as a crime. Only when the element of criminality is included, any temptation to commit the crime can be nipped in the bud. Law is not just meant for giving justice but also to play deterrence. However the judges turned into social scientists when they announced their discovery unsupported by data that adultery is not the cause of unhappy marriage but the result of unhappy marriage!

Section 497 by itself is a violation of the Saptapadi vow and by scrapping it the violation has been remedied but the crime is not checked. None of the judges except the lone female judge Justice Indu Malhotra seemed to have realised the aberration caused by scrapping the section when she questioned whether adultery can be brought under criminal offence, but restricted it to situations “where there is a public element in the wrong, such as offences against the State security and the like.”

One is at a loss to understand why this is not applicable to the entire society. The Hindu majority is still steeped into the value system of mutual fidelity and the law givers are expected to reflect that system and not create ways to encourage violation of the marriage oath. The first victim of this verdict is reported from Chennai. The husband had no qualms in telling his wife that she could not stop him from having an affair, by quoting the SC verdict on adultery. The CJI claimed in his ruling that adultery could be a ground for divorce. But the poor woman could not understand how sympathetically the court had devised ways for her benefit! She committed suicide instead. Ethically who is the first abettor for this suicide?

Source: Times of India, Chennai edition, dated 1st Oct 2018.

The second judgement pertaining to Sabarimala pilgrimage was justified by CJI Misra on the basis of ‘gender equality’ and aimed at demolishing patriarchy in religion. Referring to the restriction on menstruating women he said, “Any rule based on biological characteristics cannot pass muster of constitutional test.” If the issue is about the biological characteristics of the woman, did he or anyone in the Bench care to assess the impact of those biological characteristics on women due to the pilgrimage?  Without doing that they have just passed a verdict that is once again a travesty of the value system of the Hindu society.

This value system takes utmost care of the woman’s health and had done the needful to reduce menstruation related health issues which modern science has not even thought of. Women were kept away from all chores on those days not because they are unclean but they needed rest. The impact of physical work was only recently acknowledged by sports committees on seeing that nearly 25% of the elite athletes suffer from menstrual dysfunction. A Consensus Statement on treatment and return to play was made in the US only in the recent years. In contrast the age old Ayurvedic system of India has remedies in the name of Rajaswala paricharya which is common household knowledge in India even today though it is on the wane in modern households.

The effect of going away from the traditional system of rest is felt in the reproductive disorder commonly understood as ovarian cyst. Recently a study by AIIMS claimed that one out of four women in the reproductive age is suffering from ovarian cyst (PCOS). Though no study exists to relate it to the changing lifestyle in disregarding the Rajaswala Paricharya, a comparison can be shown with the women of the past generations, our own grandmothers. They had produced not less than five children each, many a times more than that number. But today a quarter of the women population of India are not able to reproduce due to PCOS. What could be the reason for this sudden deterioration within a span of two generations? The only difference exists in the way the present generation treats their menstruation period.

Today in the name of equality women are brainwashed to do everything that men do which is in addition to what they do as women only. There is a gender inequality by Nature in women that nearly 80% of women are undergoing heath related premenstrual symptoms according to a publication which no man undergoes. Can the judiciary find a remedy to this inequality?

Recently in an article to Live Science, the researcher , Dr. Hilary Critchley with more than 40 years of standing in the study of menstruation lamented that the implications of menstruation on women’s health is not at all being studied. Such being the status of the academic understanding of this biological issue of the woman, out honourable judges are able to pass judgement on the biological issues of woman in an issue which would primarily impact her health – if she takes up the arduous austerities and a long journey by foot to Sabarimala. Opponents would easily come up with a solution to cut short the austerities and the journey. But that is a blatant interference in the right to religious practices.

The value system under discussion is not just the care for menstrual health of the woman in the Hindu society but also the respect for temple culture that is in vogue for a known period of more than 1500 years in South India. The temple culture is the Heritage of our country and age old rules are still being in vogue, one of them being non-entry of women during menstruation period. If this is termed as pollution, yes it is.

Biologically dead material including the dead ova is being expelled from the body during menstruation. Anything dead-related is not allowed near the temple. For example, if a person dies in the close proximity of a temple, the temple would be closed till the dead is taken away. Even if someone dies at home, the occupants of the house would not go to the temple for stipulated number of days. From this we can even reason out why temples are closed at the time of eclipses which are supposed to be the best time for offering oblations to the departed ones. From the rationale of abstinence of women from entering the temple during menstruation we can assume that similar effect on the temple-chemistry is anticipated during the supposed-arrival of departed ones.

This kind of abstinence is more about retaining the temple’s sanctity than about a stigma on the women or others. Even rivers are said to have menstruation period according to traditional Hindu wisdom, which is nothing but the early period of fresh arrival of waters in the rivers (in the month of June). The first waters would be bringing in lot of dirt spread on the until-then dry river bed. So it is better not to use that water. Only after the water starts flowing well in the next few days, the river is said to have finished her menstruation. The practices are no doubt well-thought out but lack of knowledge of the inner purport makes us think that they are absurd dogmas.

All Hindu theistic women respect this culture and voluntarily refrain from going to temples during their menstruation period. The austerities of Sabarimala pilgrimage is such that woman in reproductive age cannot follow them and make a trip without harming her health. Such deep thoughts had gone into devising the rules of this pilgrimage by our ancestors. It is regretful that the judiciary is not standing up as a custodian of these values. With Justice Indu Malhotra being the only voice reflecting the values dear to the Hindu women in the both the judgements, one is tempted to ask if it is time we must demand all-women bench to hear the cases that affect all women.

Related article: Ayyappa constitutes a separate denomination

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