What is #ReadyToWait?
All you want to know about #ReadyToWait campaign on Sabarimala and how Arnab Goswami completely missed the narrative on it in his Times Now News Hour debate
The motivation for this piece is the Times Now debate on August 30 on the Sabarimala women entry issue. As usual, a high decibel screaming episode but this time it was not just a Times Now hashtag which was fighting its way up in the India trends chart. Instead, Arnab had decided that it should be a fight between two hashtags and he had declared himself in the beginning that which one of the two he wanted to see winning. The hashtags in contest were #ReadyToWait Vs #RightToPray.
Anybody who knows in details about Sabarimala wouldn’t have missed to notice, very unusual for an Arnab show, that Arnab and the panellists on his side were lacking the basic knowledge on the topic this time around. Their information seems to be very superficial. Arnab and his panellists cannot be blamed for their ignorance on this topic because the issue at hand is not that straight forward to be comprehended so easily for a non-Keralite, especially for a Delhi-centric audience. Hence, as a Malayali, I thought of making a humble attempt to put some light on the topic. First, let us briefly look at what both the sides stand for.
#RightToPray is supposed to be a gender equality movement which draws its pride from their perceived victory at Haji Ali Darga and Shani Shingnapur Temple in the matter of women entry there. The other side with #ReadyToWait hashtag is declaring themselves to be a feminist movement created by the women devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the deity of the hill shrine Shabarimala. Their aim in simple terms looks to be to let the world know that the currently discussed Sabarimala women entry issue is not a gender equality issue as its new champions would want to project it as and it is not the women devotees who are behind this controversy. On the contrary, it is an issue of faith in which rationalists aka atheists, pseudo-feminists and some paid-activists are forcing their vested interests on the pretext of constitution and gender equality with the help of secular establishments.
As the #RightToPray concept is less ambiguity let us try to understand more about the novel idea of #ReadyToWait. Let us check if it was justifiable for Arnab to term it absurd out rightly and accuse it of lacking merit. To begin with, it should be understood that the usage of the phrase ‘ban on women entry’ is totally wrong for Sabarimala unlike in the case of Shani Shinganpure and Haji Ali where it was a blanket ban on women to enter the particular pray areas of those shrines. In fact, every year lakhs of women visit and pray at Sabarimala. So let us first be clear on this point that there is no ban on women in Sabarimala.
But, there is indeed a restriction on women belonging to a particular age group—menstruating age, to be more precise. It was only in 1991 there came a formal imposing of this restriction from the High Court and until then from time immemorial this was a tradition followed by the women devotees of the Sabarimala on their own to abstain from the temple during their menstruation age. While this one is an ancient tradition in the case of Sabarimala one should bear in mind that there are claims that the women were permitted to enter in Haji Ali until 2011. Now let us analyse the premises of this tradition of Sabarimala.
In Sabarimala, the deity Lord Ayyappa is being worshipped in the form of a celibate (brahmachari). The poojas, the rituals, the traditions and everything related to Sabarimala is designed in accordance with this special posture of its celibate deity. There is one more uniqueness to Sabarimala which also enforces this particular restriction. Once the devotee has started the vrata he or she is also considered to be Lord Ayyappa as well and he will be addressed as ‘swami’ till he completes the pilgrimage irrespective of his caste and creed (women devotees will be called as malikappuram symbolising the women deity called Malikappurathamma, situated adjacent to Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala who is believed to be in love with Lord but could not marry him because of his celibacy). It means the deity and the devotees are becoming one here. Both are called swami, the celibate.
You don’t go to Sabarimala if you don’t believe in it. Because it is not a tourist place where anybody can go just for the sake of it. And those who believe are ready to follow the customs, the rules of Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala. And as part of that, they are ‘ready to wait’ until their menstruating age period to be over to go and visit him and pray there. Until then they are freely visiting all other Lord Ayyappa temples spread across everywhere. This should be exactly what the foundation on which this new
movement called #ReadyToWait is built upon.
When we talk about law, the Hindu deity is recognised by the Indian law as a minor entity who has his own rights given by the law for his/her own protection. How to maintain his home, the adobe, the temple can be decided by himself by this law. The selection of poojas, the rituals and the customs are all part of this choice of the deity. You have to agree to this constitutional right of Hindu deities in this debate. How the wish of deity is being conveyed to the common man is again a separate discussion altogether.
Before branding Kerala and its Hindus as anti-women one should take note that there are women-only temple rituals in Kerala where no man is allowed during its annual celebrations. One such biggest temple in Kerala is the Attukal Devi Temple which is also known as women’s Sabarimala. This temple has found a place in Guinness Book of World Record for it sheer number of women gathering in a single day. Nobody considers it as the violation of gender equality against men under Article 14 of Indian Constitution.
Those who are eager to brand Sabarimala as a regressive Hindu icon with half-baked information should understand one more important fact that Sabarimala is one of the very few prominent temples in India where there is no restriction in the name of caste or religion. Be it a Muslim or Christian or any religions, anybody can go to Sabarimala if they follow the rituals. Also, they should know that there is a mosque at the foothills of Sabarimala which is believed to be belonging to Lord Ayyappa’s friend who is a Muslim. His name is Vavar. Devotees call him Vavar Swami! It is mandatory for all the Ayyappa devotees to visit this mosque first before starting climbing to the hill towards Sabarimala.
Arnab and his misinformed panellists should also understand that knowingly or unknowingly they are being played into the hands of some lobby that are hell bent on undoing what Sabarimala is today. They are helping the smear campaign by some vicious groups who are targeting the tallest Hindu icons in the country by playing laws and Constitution into their advantage. Last but not least: There is no comparison of yester year’s Sati or Child marriages, both were forced upon women, with an age old harmless tradition followed by matured Hindu women by their choice. So advice to Arnab is to please make sure you put some more effort on your homework before coming to debate when it comes to specific regional issues which don’t have a pan India behaviour.
(The writer is an IT professional and social media activist)
(The views expressed in this article are strictly personal and do not reflect the view of Organiser)