Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Female apartheid or guys playing fort?

I came across this post by MumbaiGirl (via DesiPundit) wherein she bemoans the banishment of menstruating women from Hindu religious activities like poojas. I can understand why she would tend to look at it as if it were a form of sexism, discrimination against women, or as she calls it, a case of female apartheid. She makes a convincing case for discriminating against everyone suffering from any kind of bodily functions involving fluid ejection, from all religious festivities. Yes, I can see her point.

The reason why menstruating women are not allowed into temples supposedly has something to do with women being considered to be impure during that time. This, of course, is pure hogwash and a product of superstitious minds. What could be more ridiculous than considering a woman to be impure when she passes through a phase critical to the "holy" act of birthgiving? It is indefensible and a load of crap. But here is my view on this, which I am sure many of you might not agree with.

I do not consider the expulsion of menstruating women from religious rituals any more superstitious than the actual religious ritual itself.

Think about the origins of both these things : The pooja and the menstrual stigma. Long long ago some Hindu from a higher stratum of society, most definitely male, stood on the roof of his house with a microphone and said that everybody, from now on, would be obligated to worship this stone that he had just brought into his house. Otherwise bad things would befall them. And that beginning today, he would be known as a "Pujari", his house a "Mandir" and that he would be accepting "Bhiksha" from all you "Gullible Fools" for the privilege of worshipping this newly deified stone, which, from now on, would be known as The Stone, with a capital S.

And then along came a maiden who happened to be menstruating heavily, her sari stained with the byproducts of her abstinence, and asked to be led to The Stone in order to receive her day's worth of blessing. The pujari, who happened to be a squeamish fellow, having led a sheltered kind of life owing to a privileged upbringing, yelled at her, "Jesus Christ in heaven, woman! Are you hurt or something? What makes you bleed in this bizarre fashion?" The startled maiden shrank from his accusing gaze and replied, "Pujari ji, this happens once every month no, what to do, hurts like hell too, especially in the morning."

The pujari, not having been educated by his mother on these matters, promptly assumed that it was a curse that had come upon the maiden, and refused to let her into the inner sanctorium of the mandir, commanding her to come back after the curse had been lifted. Because allowing a bleeding, cursed woman into the presence of The Holy Stone, hell who knew what Pandora's box that might open?

And then when this first ever Hindu pujari lay on his deathbed, and his son, the next generation pujari asked him if he had any final words of wisdom to impart before he departed for the eternal afterlife, the old guy whispered, "Son, remember these words because they are extremely important. Never, I mean, never ever let a bleeding woman into the mandir. Oh, and also, remember to water the banana tree at least twice a day." And then, he died, passing on this foolish legacy on to the next generation, who, in it's turn, passed it on to the next one, creating a chain of superstition that had been started by one man's squeamishness for blood.

And so, it came to be that this requirement of a menstruating woman to be shunned by society during any kind of religious activity took root and was propagated through blind obedience and faith. But now my question to all women is, do you really want to be a part of these religious activities that essentially are just a reminder of how organized religion has always tried to put your kind down? Look at all the three major religions of the world and how they treat their women.

Religion, after all, has been a big game of pretense and exclusion, invented by men to exclude other men and women from their community, a circle of elitism, so to speak. And one of the intrinsic rules of this game happens to be to stigmatize women on their period. Think about small boys playing a game of fort with all kinds of pillow cushions having been arranged to form a fortified enclosure, with all the boys sitting inside their pretend fort, awaiting a pretend enemy attack. But one of the boys, who happens to be a newcomer not armed with a working knowledge of the rules of the game, tries to enter the fort, not through the door, which is a gap left conveniently open between two cushions, but by climbing over the cushion itself. The other boys say "Hey, you can't do that, you've got to enter through the door here." The newcomer, perplexed, inquires, "Why the heck not", and the others look at him as if he were some kind of a retard, and tell him "'Cause that's the rules, stupid. This is the door, you've got to enter through here. And you cannot enter this fort if you are bleeding from any orifice. That's another rule. You have to obey these rules, otherwise, you are out of the game." And the newcomer blindly obeys.

Then, another of their rules is that no girls are allowed in this game of fort. But when confronted with this rule, do girls demand to be included in their silly game? No, they just go get comfortable with their own coterie and play their own game of .. hell, whatever it is that they play. I was never privy to that stuff.

So what can women do about being excluded from religious rituals? Change the rules, you say? But if you change this rule, aren't you really striking at the foundation of religion? Because if you say this rule is invalid, always has been invalid, then what's to prevent me from questioning the validity of every other rule and precept of the religion? What makes religion as a whole, valid at all?

If you were to question the legitimacy of the rule that jumping over a cushion was not allowed, and that you had to enter the fort through the labelled "door", wouldn't it challenge the very existence of the fort, which, since it's just a game, wouldn't stand up to it?

Which is why religions as organized entities, are resistant to change and maintain a fanatical status quo on many of their core beliefs, no matter how ignorant or irrational.

So, basically, what I am saying is this. If the game of religion has rules that do not allow you to do certain things, hell, invent your own religion with it's own eccentric symbolisms. Timothy McVeigh did that, didn't he, after he was shunned by society? Although to be fair, the only precept of his religion seemed to be bombing the FBI building in Oklahoma City. But you could come up with some better ideas than he did. And disallow men from participating. Those bastards need to be taught a lesson, yeah?

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