Menstrual Untouchability: An Analysis In Context Of Sabarimala Case
Women make half of the population of the world. In India, the right to equality is provided to all irrespective of their sex. But, it is unfortunate that women are being discriminated against and denied equal status as men. One of the discriminating elements is menstruation. Menstruation is a phenomenon unique to girls. This occurs to females between 10-55 years of age. It is a cycle of 3-5 days that reappears after every twenty-eight days. This process is necessary for reproduction which prepares a female body to enable pregnancy and bear children.
Issues Faced By Women during Menstruation
Despite being a natural process, menstruation in women encounters certain myths in Indian society. What is possibly so wrong with being on periods? A woman has to face such harsh treatment from their loved ones. She has to face so much bias, all for a natural function, on which nobody has any control. A very basic body function, necessary for reproduction, has been reduced to being dirty and despicable. It has always been considered a negative event that should always remain hideous. Although we have relinquished the age-old practices of sleeping on mats or being cast off to frugal huts outside one’s home, women still bear menstrual untouchability.
Menstruation in women is associated with impurity. It is considered as pollution and menstruating women as pollutants. A menstruating woman is subjected to several restrictions which find their place starting from the home to the society outside, like restricting a menstruating woman’s activities at home, she is prohibited from entering into the kitchen, cooking food, touching pickles, utensils, etc. Further, women are supposed to avoid offering prayers or perform any religious task during the menstrual period. Their presence in religious activities is seen as a source of pollution which acts as a threat to the sacredness of the task and the place. Carrying these prohibitions to another level, the society lays restriction on women entering the religious places while they are on their periods. The presence of menstruating women in religious activities is considered as a source of pollution which makes the task and the place impure.
Sabarimala Temple case is the recent event relating to this issue, where females between the ages of 10-50 years were not allowed to offer prayers. Women, of menstruating ages, were barred from entry to places of worship, including Sabarimala, based on two Travancore Devaswom Board notifications of October 1955 and November 1956, which were in 1992 upheld by the Kerala High Court. This issue came for consideration before the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India.
While deciding this case and allowing entry of women to the shrine by setting aside the centuries-old practise of barring entry of women into the temple, majority judge bench held this practice illegal and unconstitutional and said that the exclusion of women, based on age or menstrual status, from entering Sabarimala temple is a form of "untouchability" which places them in a "subordinate" position, perpetuated "patriarchy" and is "derogatory to their dignity. “Discrimination of women based on impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion. The social exclusion of women, based on menstrual status, is but a form of untouchability which is prohibited under Article 17 of the Constitution”.
Hon’ble DY Chandrachud.J, while passing the historic judgment said: “Article 17 certainly applies to untouchability practices concerning lower castes, but it will also apply to the systemic humiliation, exclusion, and subjugation faced by women”.
This judgment is certainly a big win for women, but this only is not enough to eradicate the menstrual untouchability from society. It will take time to change the perspective of society towards this natural phenomenon because the customs are so deeply embedded, and despite all our modernity, most of us have failed to abandon them. However, as we are getting a say in this matter, we can educate the society that menstruation is not pollution and no girl is dirty, only because she has a uterus which sheds its lining once a month.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megha Garg is a Research Scholar at K.R. Mangalam University.
They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Edited By: Swathi. Ashok. Nair
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