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Today I happened to talk (on WhatsApp) to an old college-mate. She has been teaching ever since she left college and is now a retired professor. Our conversation soon turned to the still hot topic in Kerala: the entry of women of menstruating age to a particular hill-shrine. (Women traditionally weren’t allowed to go – though there have been instances of them having entered the shrine in the past which though is being strongly denied – because the deity is supposedly a bachelor God. A recent court found the restriction a violation of human rights and by an order, allowed entry to women of all ages)

Well, it hadn’t been a natural progression of conversation which landed us on the topic. The friend had sent me a ‘forward’ on WhatsApp seeing which, I had, cautiously, asked about her views on the subject. It wasn’t clear to me whether she sent it because she agreed, or disagreed with it. I know, I know. In spite, I should simply have kept my mouth shut. But a small flame of hope had risen in me, that may be, just may be, she was not one of them?

By ‘them’ I mean women who are holding steadfast to the tradition of considering themselves ‘impure’ during menstruating age and hence not worthy of visiting the bachelor God’s shrine. Believe me, in this age and time there are many, too many, of them. They actually stood on roads one day, holding lamps, proclaiming the fact, in a show of strength. I hang my head in shame.

If she wasn’t one of ‘them’, we could have a conversation on regressive practices, I hoped. High hopes, indeed. Instead, I ended up getting tips from her on how important traditions are (never mind that they were being felled like nine pins whenever convenient), how it is only ‘non-believing’ ‘activist’ women who want to climb the hill to visit the shrine (as if they are a contaminated breed!) , that those who insist on going are actually ‘hurting the sentiments’ of the believers (never mind that women who want to go are ALSO believers and hurt about the fact they are not allowed to go), how women from ‘good’ families do not consider going, only the ‘bad’ women….

Here, I gnashed my teeth and politely put a stop to the conversation.

Sorry, I said. Stop calling women ‘bad’ because they are going against the diktats of society and/or age old traditions. In fact don’t call women bad at all for any reason whatsoever. Demanding change does not make women ‘immoral’. Let’s not talk on the topic anymore because we are obviously on different sides. It is all very well meeting old friends from college. But then sooner than later you find you have grown so much, and in different directions, that apart from college stories, we have nothing else in common. A sad truth that was brought home again today.

My WhatsApp tagline reads, in no uncertain, terms: No to sexist jokes and…. bhakts. That last is a reference to the right-wingers. It is a clear statement: I am NOT one of you. Keep your distance. One would think that would suffice for people to understand and accept where I stand. Apparently not. They act as if being connected on WhatsApp somehow entitles them to dump their stupid ‘forwards’ on me. Perhaps I should find myself a megaphone and start shouting from rooftops!

©Shail Mohan 2019