Updated: Aug 11, 2019
by Syam Sudhakar & Christine Williams
Gender issues are in the limelight lately in what might seem unlikely places: Hollywood, live theatre, Presidential communiques and UNHCR asylum assessment … The news footage coming out of India’s southern state of Kerala has been remarkable over the last couple of weeks – showing women stretching out their arms to reach the breadth of the whole state, west to east, in solidarity with two women who dared to enter a temple which bans the entry of women. That is, all women who are of menstruating age. Men of any age are allowed in to pray, of course. Of course.
I was disgusted by the obvious sexism in excluding women from offering prayers in the temple. But in discussion with South Indian poet, Syam Sudhakar, I was given a broader view of the complex dynamics of the situation. His statement below is a pithy summary, of a kind of spiritual teaching I’ve been grateful to receive from the many visits I’ve made to India – a reminder that although ‘ism’s’ may come and go, sweeping the world with fervour before being dropped in favour of perhaps an even more dramatic social revision, or regression, still the basics of human rights and equality for all must be contemplated within the context of the fragility of our natural environment and the tendency of some in power to self-righteously prescribe what others must think, how they must behave and where they may go, according to gender stereotypes. Here’s Sudhakar’s view in brief:
As a gender issue I have no problem in any particular gender entering the temple. But I would say everyone, both men and women, should not enter en masse.
Reason 1. It’s forest, and crowds of pilgrims will definitely disturb the wild.
Reason 2. The philosophy of that temple is ‘thatvamasi’, which means, ‘It’s you’. ‘It’s you’ conveys the understanding that what you are searching for is you yourself – or ‘god’ is within you – or you are ‘god’. If you realise that philosophy, why should you go there?
Reason 3. Temples or any such constructions are basically built to collect tax. Creating beliefs and playing with beliefs are pure politics, the politics of kings, monarchs or ‘democratic rulers’.
Liberation for us [the spectrum of men/women] is possible only through freedom and nonviolence. I will never support violence, whether for personal liberation or for nationalism.