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'Entry of Women in Sabarimala Unnecessary': Shashi Tharoor's Hypocrisy on Gender Rights

File photo of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

File photo of Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.

It was just yesterday when the Congress MP introduced a private members’ bill in the Lok Sabha to make marital rape a crime. But ask him about Sabarimala, and he will say, "We are in favour of women empowerment... but women's entry was a provocative act."

Adrija Bose
  • Last Updated: January 4, 2019, 11:40 AM IST
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Shashi Tharoor is woke. Ask any millennial on Twitter, and they will vouch for Tharoor's ‘woke-ness’. He tweets out words that are difficult to pronounce, he makes everyone scurry for their dictionaries, he makes 'New Year videos' for his family, he is all for legalising marijuana, he reads and shares travel blogs, he talks about transgender rights, he takes up women rights issues and has turned into a crusader of sorts.

But ask him about Sabarimala, and he will say, "We are in favour of women empowerment... but women's entry was a provocative act."

It was just yesterday when the Congress MP introduced a private members’ bill in the Lok Sabha to make marital rape a crime. In the bill, Tharoor proposes the deletion of Exception 2 to Section 375 of Indian Penal Code, which states that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape. Great idea!

If you live in India (and even if you just know what's happening here), you know that mentioning 'marital rape' at any social gathering will just raise eyebrows. Last year, when some petitioners sought to criminalise marital rape, the Centre had submitted before the Delhi High Court saying that it may destabilise the institution of marriage apart from being an easy tool for harassing husbands.

Swaraj Kaushal, former Mizoram governor and husband of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, had then declared there was no such thing as marital rape. He said homes should not become “police station”. When it comes to marital rapes, the political or any sort of establishment is sadly regressive. So, when Tharoor introduces a bill that women across the country have been demanding for years, there's a sense of hope. Perhaps, politicians do care?

But Tharoor, with his ideas of Sabarimala, just proved that politicians don't care about women rights. They care about politics.

Days after the Supreme Court ordered the end of a decades-old ban on women of menstrual age entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, two women below 50 walked into the shrine before daybreak on Wednesday. It was quite a historic moment. But Tharoor, who is also Thiruvananthapuram MP, called the entry of the two women 'unnecessary'.

The apparent liberal politician in an interview last month said that "equality is not the problem in Sabarimala. Instead, it is an issue concerning the holiness and the rituals of the temple.”

In an earlier piece, Tharoor wrote that the overwhelming majority of Kerala Hindus, including a significant majority of women, have demonstrated that their faith is offended by the Supreme Court verdict. He quoted 'informal surveys' and presented some statistics to say that opposition to the court judgment among Kerala Hindus is above "75 per cent and perhaps as high as 90 per cent". We don't who conducted these informal surveys, and how only Tharoor received it.

"The intensity of emotions on display have surprised many liberals, not least because so many women seem outraged that other women might be allowed to go into the Sabarimala temple and disturb its sanctity," he further wrote.

Now we hate to break this to Mr Tharoor, but someone please explain to him that women are conditioned by patriarchy as much as men are. My grandmother would ask me not to enter the little corner in the house where she would perform her daily puja when I was menstruating. She would keep me away from the delicious jars of pickle. And yes, she wanted to start looking for grooms when I turned 20.

My grandmother was a very strong woman, but she was conditioned into believing certain things that her mother and her grandmother told her. My mildly religious mother, on the other hand, would stomp inside temples whenever she wanted to, without caring much about her menstrual cycle. But Tharoor feels that liberals are shocked because women are outraged on behalf of other women. Hello, that's how things work!

But Tharoor, it seems, not only has understood how gender empowerment works and figured out very interesting statistics for us, he now decides who is a devotee and who is not. In interviews to reporters, Tharoor announced that the two women who entered the Sabarimala temple are not devotees. "The two women did not even climb the last 18 steps," he said. According to him, they didn't go there to pray.

In Tharoor's own words, issues like Sabarimala leave "instinctive liberals" like him "torn between basic respect for gender equality and our democratic duty to respect the beliefs and wishes of our constituents". It's strange that gender equality can't find a place in 'democratic duty'. It's even stranger that gender equality even for this woke politician is only important when it's convenient. ​

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