A machine to check for menstruating women - this was a Hindu priest's suggestion after being asked why women were being kept off his temple's premises. The statement triggered an online campaign called #Happytobleed.
The Sabarimala shrine in India's southeastern coastal state, Kerala, is home to the deity Ayyappa. As the legend goes, Ayyappa killed a she-demon called Mahishi and was revered by his people as a kind king with divine knowledge. He is believed to have spent the rest of his life meditating on a hill called the Sabarimala, where a temple in his honor hosts one million pilgrims every year.
Most of the devotees who come to pay their respects are men. Women past the age of puberty are not allowed.
So when the question of when women could enter the temple was raised, the temple's chief priest, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, had a simple answer. "The day there will be a machine to detect if it's the 'right time' for women to enter temples; that day they will be allowed in Sabarimala," Gopalakrishnan said, referring to monthly bleeding in females as an inappropriate time to visit holy sites.
When is the right time?
Gopalakrishnan's answer angered several people, prompting a young woman called Nikita Azad to draft an open letter to the temple priest. "I am a girl of 20. I have eyes, nose, ears, lips, arms, legs just as any human on earth. But unfortunately, I also have breasts, hips and a bleeding vagina. I recently came to know that my blood pollutes the temple Sabarimala and I am denied entry to it because I am a woman who menstruates," the woman said in her letter.
Azad's statement triggered a whole new online campaign called #Happytobleed to support her plea in breaking taboos around menstruation.
Writer-activist Meena Kandasamy wrote this on her Twitter timeline:
Users stepped up and spoke with clarity about how women needed to menstruate to be able to bear children :
Even male supporters weren't far behind:
The author of the letter, Nikita Azad, was obviously pleased with the attention her cause generated:
Does God believe in equal rights?
"I have heard my mother say that women don't enter temples during 'that time'," Nikita Azad writes in her letter, published on the website Youth ki Awaaz. Priests at the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala argue the god is a bachelor and a "yogi" - someone who has given up all material possessions - and that is why women who have had their periods cannot enter the temple, lest they tempt the god in some way.
Writer Kandasamy has a good suggestion:
But for women's rights activist Kavita Krishnan, men, women and gods own their sexuality and must take responsibility for their sexual desires. "You can't say that because I would like to be celibate, women aren't allowed around me, because if women come around me, then I cannot be trusted to remain celibate," she argues, adding that the logic is more human, rather than divinely ordained. It is also similar to the kind of logic rapists use to justify their acts, the activist says.
"I feel like telling the Sabarimala people that this may be your prejudice, but why impose it on your god," she asks.