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‘Neither men nor women should be allowed in Sabarimala’

By November 12, 2018No Comments

Source : The Hindu-SUNDAY MAGAZINE   –   Navamy Sudhish

The award-winning feminist says she stands on the shoulders of all the women writers who came before her

With huge French windows opening to a yard strewn with trees and arbours, writer K.R. Meera’s home in Kottayam is the proverbial oasis of calm. But the woman sitting in front of me, in a scarlet-bordered sari and sporting a low chignon, seems lost, if not unsettled. Caught in a wild storm for her comments on the issue of women’s entry to Sabarimala, the writer says it’s quite unnerving to see how some people are using a landmark judgment to orchestrate a riot. “If you had asked me earlier, I would have said neither men nor women should be allowed in the hills, so that tigers can roam freely. Nobody should be given the permission to pollute the Pamba and ravage the terrain,” she says.

She is equally aghast at the declarations of the so-called saviours of faith, people who proclaimed they would stoop to any criminal low to breed a rebellion, even desecrate the premises by urinating or pouring blood. “The ugliness of such an act has been preached and attested to by the torch-bearer of the agitation, the fire-spitting spokesman now disowned by the tantri family. Hindu organisations are not perturbed by the devastation caused by the recent flood, their only concern is maintaining the celibacy of a male deity.”

Meera strongly believes it is the temple’s wealth that has led to the issue snowballing. “Initially, the only voice of dissent came from the tantri’s family, as they felt the verdict would mutilate their supremacy and their role in defining and dictating the rituals and proceedings of the temple. I feel disturbed that enlightened Malayalis have failed to understand this.”

Toxic ideologies

Recently, the author was invited to a famous temple in Pathanamthitta for Vijayadashami, when children are traditionally initiated into learning.

“Seeing my name on pamphlets, many parents got in touch with me to say they wanted me to be their child’s first guru. But a couple of days before the event, a temple committee member called and asked me to stay away because a Hindutva outfit had threatened a black flag protest against me for supporting the entry of women into Sabarimala. I was ready to face any number of black flags, but I decided to spare children the violence; they don’t deserve to write their first alphabet in the middle of such turbulence,” says Meera.

The incident affected her so much, she abruptly stopped visiting temples. “I grew up a believer and temple visits were a part of everyday life. But now I realise how even such a harmless routine can be a potential stimulus for toxic ideologies,” she says.

Meera blames the media for fanning the flames. “In an earlier devaprasanam , a tantri made a dramatic declaration that a woman had entered the shrine much to the wrath of its celibate deity. Then, a woman came forward and confessed to entering the temple a couple of years ago leading to an elaborate purification ritual. Does that mean Ayyappa wasn’t celibate during this interval? Is celibacy something that can be retrieved every now and then?”

Meera, known for her intense and heartfelt craft and feminist sensibilities, says no fanatic can ever understand secularism or gender justice. “We should not promote any customs that negate the basic principles of the constitution and of democracy. When your faith lacks the backing of law, it becomes mere superstition.”

Wrong league

She says it is not a devotee versus atheist situation in Sabarimala, rather a war between ignorance and reason. “Despite our remarkable literacy levels, we find a lot of people joining the wrong league. Look at the attacks on authors like Hareesh and Perumal Murugan, and you see a startling pattern. They are seeing a work of art from the most immature perspective possible and their intolerance is repulsive. But the judgment dismissing the plea to ban Meeshafilled us with enormous hope. In a sense, a pointless controversy resulted in the apex court legally endorsing freedom of expression.”

The first woman reporter in Malayala Manorama , Meera says she survived the newsroom with grit and tenacity. Though her presence was flaunted, acceptance did not come easily, she says. In 2006, after a fruitful journalistic career, Meera quit to become a full-time writer. Her tryst with the literary world was less strenuous than that of her predecessors, she says. “Rajalakshmi committed suicide, Lalithambika Antharjanam had to brave the fury of patriarchy, and in the case of Kamala Das, her private life was more celebrated than her writing. I am a beneficiary of all the wars these women waged.”

Meera broke into the literary scene with poignant stories and novellas. Be it her first short story collection, Ormayude Njarambu (2002), or the much-acclaimedArachaar (2012), her works revel in angst, in a world of poetic leitmotifs and melancholia, bold undertones and empathy. The award-winning author (she has won the Sahitya Akademi Award multiple times) says some people think women writers are celebrated for their gender, and not their craft. “In my initial days as a writer, I received a letter from a male friend that said all aesthetic expressions of women start in the kitchen and end in the verandah. It was quite a revelation; I learned to avoid certain themes and metaphors,” she says.

Unrestrained machismo

Her literary career started off uneventfully, but with Ave Maria (2005), a work with an unapologetic political edge, Meera suddenly found herself in the eye of the storm. She says misogyny is just the symptom of a more deep-rooted malady and Kerala’s high literacy rates doesn’t mean much. “We often interpret feminism as an acute form of misandry and enjoy nurturing this inaccurate idea. In my generation, it was embarrassing to be branded a feminist, as it meant an erroneous stand. They never connected the term democracy with it, keeping the power syntax intact.”

Meera observes that this absurd value system has affected and conditioned our society, dragging it back. “In mainstream Malayalam cinema, you will see this repeated temple-festival-in-crisis theme. And it’s always the hero who saves the temple’s dignity which, in turn, is the village’s dignity. There will be an unrestrained celebration of machismo and bloodshed, and such narratives have conditioned our collective psyche for long.”

Meera speaks of how a woman wrote to her recently, enraged by her stand on Sabarimala, and said, ‘I regret buying your book with my hard-earned money’. “I replied that I was shattered to see a book I wrote, burning every granule of my soul, in the hands of a person like her.” She says that even after millennia, we are still entrapped in a vicious loop that functions by the laws of exclusion. “Be it contemporary Kerala or Kalighat, a woman has to prove so many things if she wants to enter a temple or work there. You are asked to prove your devotion or your capabilities. But the doors open voluntarily for all men.

Meera points to three recent watershed moments in Kerala that are counter narratives. “The first is the women’s collective in Malayalam cinema; the second is the nuns coming out to protest the rape of their colleague; and now, it’s the Sabarimala case — they are all triggered by one woman and her courage; an actor who didn’t shy away from reporting a sexual assault. I consider it nothing short of a revolution. It was immensely inspiring to see women from such a male-dominated industry risking their careers to question injustice.”

  • Began her career as a journalist withMalayala Manorama, but moved on to writing fiction
  • Won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for her short story Ave Maria
  • Has written the screenplay of four Malayalam TV soaps
  • Her novel Aarachar (Hangwoman) was shortlisted for the DSC Prize

When your faith lacks the backing of law, it becomes mere superstition

Women are asked to prove their devotion or capabilities. But the doors open voluntarily for all men

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