Sabarimala temple
Supreme Court in the Sabarimala temple hearing asked why women cant't be allowed when constitution allows them into temples. Picture: The teeming crowds at Sabarimala temple [Representational Image]Wikipedia

The new Travancore Devaswom Board President, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, who took charge just two days ago has stoked up a controversy on the issue of impurity of women who, if menstruating, are not allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple, which has roused the ire of women across Kerala state.

In Kerala, Sabarimala temple authorities have long stuck to an archaic principle that militates against gender equality by denying menstruating women entry into the temple. Menstruating women are considered unclean and impure by the temple authorities.

Addressing reporters at the Kollam Press Club on 13 November, Gopalakrishnan stated that women will be permitted to Sabarimala after the invention of a machine which can scan and judge their purity, Newsminute reported.

"A time will come when people will ask if all women should be disallowed from entering the temple thourghout the year. 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," he said, according to Newsminute.

He also wanted security to be tightened so no unclean women could enter the temple surreptitiously. In 2006, Girija Lokesh, popular Kannada film and TV actress, admitted that she violated Sabarimala regulations by entering the sanctum sanctorum of the temple in 1987.

In December 2010, the crime branch of Kerala police chargesheeted Kannada actress Jayamala who had claimed that shehad entered the sanctum sanctorum of Sabarimala temple and touched the idol of Ayyappa.

The new Devaswom board chief's comments drew angry reactions from women's rights activists. Sudha Ramalingam, a senior lawyer said: "I can't comprehend this. How can a machine determine the purity of women and what is the standard? How can a machine judge the purity of women? How scientific is it?" Newsminute quoted her as asking.

"It seems to be ridiculous. I am against the view that menstruating women are impure. People must first understand what woman and womanhood is and must talk with sensitivity," she told Newsminute.

Poet and activist Ravi Shankar pointed out: "There could also be a machine that scans and finds out whether men have led a celibate, teetotaler, vegetarian life for 41 days before entering the temple. This will help reducing the crowd by 90 per cent."