About A Friday Evening Discussion In The Office

So today, at the office, we were lazing around avoiding work as all corporate slaves are entitled to do on a Friday evening. I’m normally not one for a discussion, much less a debate. One topic led to another and suddenly we were discussing about one of the hottest topics of the day – the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages entry into the shrine at Sabarimala. The women in the group had the opinion that this is the right thing to do and support the decision. For the sake of sticking to the point of this post, I will only talk about my involvement in the discussion (there was another male present).

It is easy to say that I am a feminist, but I’m not sure what all that term actually encompasses. It is also easy to start a sentence with, “I am all for equal rights for women.” But there are many layers to this discussion.

Deep into the discussion, I found myself at odds with the women in the group. I told them that the whole issue is agenda-based and the people driving this movement are actually power-hungry politicians who actually do not care about women’s rights and feminism. I told them, the women trying to gain entry into the shrine are not even devout Malayali women. Instead, scores of Malayali women are leading marches across the state against the SC’s verdict. I asked them, what is the need to push this agenda when the women of Kerala themselves don’t want this supposed privilege?

And then as the discussion evolved, it hit me. The debate is not about who is driving this agenda, or why now. It is about understanding what feminism stands for. It is about realizing that women do not need men proscribing for them parts of a culture they share. When I argued that my own folks think the SC verdict is a bad idea, I was made to understand that they do not represent the entire womenfolk. Any random woman in India can have any reason to visit the shrine. She could be a devotee who is finally grateful that she can get a glimpse of the god she has been worshiping all her life. Someone else might just be plain and simple curious. There might be some who just want the spotlight. But here’s the thing. No matter their reason, every woman has the absolute right to do everything a man is allowed to do. That is unconditional. That is what true feminism stands for, I realized today. You can sit and argue that women are not biologically equipped to do such and such task, but you cannot deny them the chance to try. The least men can do to support women is to remove barriers that have been placed in their paths in the name of man-made traditions.

All of us hide behind age-old traditions. Unknowingly, I also fell into that trap and thought that it was a bad idea to test the faith of crores of people when the women from that group are themselves against this idea. But how do I know for sure that every single woman in Kerala is against it? There is no way to know. For all I know, even some of the women who speak against the verdict may be doing so simply out of societal pressure and wouldn’t dare come out in support of it, lest they be ostracized. Fear is a great obstacle in itself. It clouds sound judgement and blocks honest thoughts from taking root in our minds. Because there is simply no other way, women in Kerala may have over the years accepted not entering Sabarimala as the norm. But at what cost?

No tradition has been around for ever. All mythologies are man-made legends until there is real proof that it’s not. So it follows that all rules and conventions around these traditions were also created by humans, in an era which is so much different from how things are today. The tradition that the devotees are claiming they will die protecting was not decreed by a god on earth, but by men made of flesh and bones. So what stops these traditions from changing? Is the god really going to descend from the heavens and strike down every man and woman who supports this idea? If that’s the case,  there is all the more reason to pursue this cause as we will finally have closure to the theist-atheist debate.

What really struck me hard and made me realize my fallacy is something my female colleague said. Let women into all the spheres where men operate. Let them try and fail. But let them try. Let them try and decide what they want to do and what not. They do not need the patronizing shadow of a man telling them how they think what might not be right for them. Shut the fuck up and stand with them. That’s all they need. I got the point. I hope others do too. Soon.