India-based writer and college student Nikita Azad has launched the campaign #HappyToBleed on November 21 on Facebook, after Sabarimala Temple Board president Prayar Gopalakrishnan said he would not allow women to enter the place of worship until they were verified not to be menstruating by a machine.
Women of menstruating age – between 12 and 50 — have long been banned from the famed Kerala, India, temple, which hosts more than one million visitors each year. Women’s entry into the temple has been the subject of controversy for several years; the ban is reportedly imposed according to the dictates of the Hindu God Ayappan.
Gopalakrishnan – who was elected Nov. 2 as president of the Devaswom Board which oversees the administration of the Sabarimala Temple – unleashed a feminist fury Nov. 13 while speaking at the Kollam Press Club in Kerala. Responding to a question about whether women should be allowed to enter the temple, Gopalakrishnan said: “These days there are machines that can scan bodies and check for weapons. There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ – not menstruating – for a woman to enter the temple.”
“When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside,” said Gopalakrishnan. Indian societal mores contend that menstruating women are “impure.” Many Hindu temples discourage a woman from entering if she is menstruating. The religious rules surrounding menstruation are not limited to Hindus; several Indian faiths consider menstruation to be impure. Historically, women were isolated in a separate space in their home during “that time of the month.”
The temple president’s remarks were widely reported by the Indian media, which railed against the patriarchy still prevalent in much of Indian culture. Veteran journalist Kalpana Sharma wrote: “It is truly bizarre that the Sabrimala priest should suggest that a machine be invented to check whether a woman is bleeding before she can enter a temple.”
“A man of religious dogma is turning to science to enforce illogical tradition,” wrote Sharma, who praised Azad and other young feminists for the courage to openly discuss menstruation, normally a taboo subject.
Azad, who writes for the blogs Feminism in India and Youth ki Awaaz, said on the Facebook campaign page: “Let us be clear: this is not a temple-entry campaign. This campaign is an initiative against sexism and taboos that have been upheld for ages.”
“Class structure has created various forms of patriarchy like locking women in kitchens, reducing her contribution in the production process, considering her a reproductive machine, and objectifying her as an object of sexual pleasure,” stated Azad.
“#HappyToBleed acknowledges menstruation as a natural activity which doesn’t need curtains to hide behind,” stated Azad. “It urges young women to hold placards/sanitary napkins/charts saying Happy To Bleed, take their pictures, upload it to their profiles, and send it to us, in order to oppose the shame game played by patriarchal society since ages.”
Several people on the Facebook campaign site noted that Hindu culture views women as goddesses, so females are treated very well. Azad responded: “We want to be recognized as humans, not as objects of worship, who can decide for themselves what they want and don’t want.”