Sabarimala row: Smriti Irani's dramatic and tasteless comments reflect male chauvinistic approach towards women's hygiene

Why do we as a nation keep going back to the Middle Ages? The Supreme Court, in its wisdom, allowed women to enter the Sabrimala temple. By law, that means they can go unhindered. If indeed they do not wish to go they do not have to go. No one is forcing it upon them.

File image of Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani. PTI

File image of Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani. PTI

Clearly, most women have decided in their wisdom to maintain tradition and not go on this pilgrimage. So be it. If they have a belief that it is not done and that Sabrimala is a male only tradition—as much as the Pongala festival at the Attukal Bhagavathi temple in Kerala's capital city of Thiruvananthapuram is only for women—there seems little need to legislate to the contrary.

Against this backdrop, however, the rather vivid description given by Union minister Smriti Irani seems unnecessarily dramatic and tasteless. This immediate fallback on the female period and the menstrual cycle as something horribly unclean has no real bearing on the 21st Century and modern hygiene. The imagery of women dripping blood on pristine and holy floors is a ridiculous premise.

No one carries ‘blood-soaked napkins’ as gifts to either friends or houses of worship. No woman in her right mind would enter a house of worship without having taken adequate precautions. Besides, the cycle is a natural ovulation and there is neither anything ugly or unclean about it.

Whatever way you might wish to paraphrase Irani’s incandescent insight, her remarks are totally absurd. One is perplexed over the point she was trying to make. For far too long we have been using this natural biological function as a symbol of some sort of dirtiness. Perhaps in the distant past there was an issue with hygiene. That's gone now. Women can work, play, run a marathon, take part in the Olympics and do everything that men can during the peak of their cycle.

This male chauvinistic approach also presumes, inaccurately, that men are somehow sanitised and do not have hygiene issues. This is immensely untrue and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the US agency), men who do not wash after going to the toilet are likely to suffer from E. Coli, among other diseases.

And what sort of number? Mercy Central hospital boss Dr Michael Zimmerman said a third of men do not wash their hands after urinating. He is so quoted: “If you don’t take the opportunity to wash your hands, you’re going to end up spreading the germs you’ve picked up throughout the day to everyone and everything.” Not to mention that restroom surfaces (including door handles) are home to thousands of species of bacteria that are aching to turn your hands into a raging germ fest."

Today, even rural Indian women have access to materials that keep them comfortable and secure. Traditions and customs change according to scientific and technological advancement. What was valid in another era is not valid now.

It is time we buried this bogey and stopped making that monthly strip of time so unpleasant. When was the last time you saw a blood-soaked napkin? And how many male hands did you shake today where a third hadn’t washed… go figure.


Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 16:45 PM

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