A 620-kilometre-long wall of almost five million women was created in Kerala, striking down the brahmanical, right-wing forces of patriarchy, reasserting the progressive values of the people of India, and is all set to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. The women in Kerala led by Brinda Karat (CPIM) and Annie Raja and numerous other groups including progressive Hindu organisations – with the support of Pinarayi Vijayan, the chief minister of Kerala – have asserted that the right wing forces cannot keep women in the confines of four walls. The wall is an assertion that women’s place is wherever she wishes it to be – in the boardroom, at the desk, behind a computer or in the fields. She may pray if she wishes to, and no one can deny her entry anywhere.
The two women, Bindu and Kanaka Durga, who managed to enter the temple through the Pamba base camp, avoiding the heavily guarded 188 steps, have also created history and her-story. Feminist wits will always bring down the wall of patriarchy. Only the temple being closed down for purification and cleansing, even if for an hour, is a sad commentary on how the brahmin males in power, backed by the right wing forces including complicit women, are using the old bag of rituals and tricks to refuse to move forward. May God Ayappa grant them salvation for they know not what they do – they are crucifying humanity at the altar of greed and power as the Sabarimala temple receives a large amount of alms from its devotees who do an arduous trek, barefoot to reach the deity.
The Supreme Court gave a majority judgement – with a surprising dissent from its only woman judge – stating that denying women the right to enter was denying them the right to equality. However, this order was trampled over by the right wing forces that bullied and indeed terrorised women, who tried to visit the temple. Several were hit, many had to head back.
The battle had reached its crescendo. If constitutional rights backed by the Supreme Court order and the government in the state of Kerala are threatened, then therein lies a sorry tale of the spirit of democracy in India.
However, the central government still lives in denial as if women do not work, and if they work, they do not have children. This schizophrenic conduct of the people in power who believe that raising the highest statue in the world is a phallic assertion, while women are denied the most basic things: food, safety, right to work – as the burden of childcare, housework and caring of the old is dumped on them – is manifest everywhere in India.
While high-rise buildings are being built and bullet trains bought, we do not mandate a children’s room in every building when land is transferred in the name of the people. A small room where a mother – and why not a father – can leave a child safely as they proceed to do their daily work, would bring down child rape. Let us have a humane society, and affirm that keeping children safe is a collective responsibility that the state should not abdicate and dump onto women’s shoulders. Free women wish to live and work in freedom – and worship if they wish to – not as slaves.
Sadly, the opposition Congress has called the women’s wall ‘communal’, as it is backed by some Hindu groups but what could be more myopic? This year, may women emerge as a collective force and vote for those who stand for women’s rights. Those who want to push women back into a dark era should stand by the sidelines, and learn the basics of democracy: humanity, equality and a progressive attitude. If you want our vote, include us – women!
Three cheers for the women who led the wall, and broke another wall of patriarchy. To the women who stood as the wall, thank you for being the change we want to see, and for ushering the new year with a bang. The 2019 elections will hopefully bring in the change, as women vote for women’s rights.
Sagari Chhabra is an award-winning author and film director.