MENSTRUATING WOMEN BARRED FROM CHAVATH

DISCARD OUTDATED BELIEFS: Despite increasing education and progress, many communities still believe that menstruating women should be treated like untouchables or outcasts. A concerted effort is required from all spheres to combat this outdated thinking. (above) A still from Padman, a movie about a man who braved social criticism to bring cheap pads to women

BY RAJAN NARAYAN’

And a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when the most important festival of niz goenkars began with great celebration and jubilation. For a Saturday following the week when we were shocked to learn that women having their periods could not participate in the Ganesh festivals. For a Saturday following the week gay relationships were decriminalised by the SC. For a Saturday following the week when the NGT administered a high voltage shock to mushrooming illegal construction in CRZ non-development zones. For a Saturday following the week when despite an epidemic of ‘indigestion cases’ the Goa Medical College does not have any facilities to treat them.

GANESH IS HERE

And a few stray thoughts on Goenkars beginning the celebration of their most important festivals on Thursday. A festival which is more important to Goenkars then Diwali or Dussehra. The only other festival that Goenkars celebrate with so much fervour is the Tulsi Vivah which comes 40 days after Diwali which marks the beginning of the marriage season. Unlike in neighbouring Maharashtra, Chovoth, as Chaturthi is called in Goa, is primarily a private family festival. A festival which brings together all members of the extended family from within Goa and from the rest of the country and even several parts of the world where Hindu Goans have migrated.

Contrary to the general belief it is not only Catholic Goans, but thousands of Hindu Goans who also migrated in search of jobs. This is in addition to a large number of Goans who resettled in various parts of India due to persecution by the Portuguese colonial regime. Since the Uniform Civil Code gives everyone an equal share in the property it is also an opportunity for the extended family to keep track of the safety of their inheritance. I have seen from a minimum of 50 to over 400 members of the extended family together for not just the first day of Chovoth but the entire duration of Chovoth.

The tradition is that only the eldest son or brother is allowed to install the Ganesh image at the ancestral home. All the other members of the family go to the house in which the Ganesh image or idol is installed to pay homage. Among the biggest extended family ceremonies right here in Panjim is at Mamai Kamat House, next to the old Secretariat.

Historically, Ganesh is to be celebrated a minimum of seven days, extending to 11 or even 21 days. But since the days of susegad are over and most employees have to get back to work, the celebration has been cut down to as short as one and half days. Sri Ganesh is brought to the house either on the day of Ganesh or before, but cannot get into the special matoli-covered mandap until he gets a green signal from the priest. Sri Ganesh can be install only after the pooja is conducted which can extend to as long as three pm in the afternoon. The extended family has to wait till pooja has been performed and Sri Ganesh is installed to have all the delicious food that has been cooked (or in these days mostly outsourced). There is a desperate shortage of priests during Ganesh time as every family has to have Ganesh blessed before the stapnah/installation. Some are even placed outside the door while waiting for the priest. Priests are imported from neighbouring Karnataka particularly from Udipi and the length of pooja depends on how much you give the priest.

I have been a great fan of Lord Ganesh even though I am not a believer in the traditional sense. At one time I had more than 400 Ganeshes of various materials which I gave away to friends when I went for steroid detox and nobody, including myself, thought I would come back. When I did come back to everyone’s surprise, no one returned the images to me. I now have about a dozen, including one over-two-centuries-old terracotta Ganesh, which originally belonged to Dr Peter Ronald D Souza, a Catholic and former head of the Department of Political Science at Goa University, whose family gave it to me when I was very ill.

SARVAJANIK CHANGE

There was no sarvajanik or community Ganesh in Goa till the Marathiwadis took over Goa. Contrary to the fake depiction on the Colors channel, the great Shivaji Maharaj had nothing to do with the starting of the community Ganesh festival. During British rule there was a ban on the gathering of large groups of people who could protest against the British government. It was Lokmanya Tilak, who was Gandhi’s mentor and Guru, who thought of the idea of a community Ganesh, which was used to demonstrate against the British. The movement spread across Maharashtra with political parties and politicians, not to mention film stars, getting into the act.

The biggest and richest and most prestigious Ganesh mandal in Mumbai is the Lalbagh Raja, which is located in the original mill area which is now become a posh residential and commercial district after the collapse of the textile mills. The Lalbagh Raja is controlled by the Shiv Sena and a visit to it is compulsory for all film stars. The veteran film star Raj Kapoor used to organise the Ganesh utsav at his studio for decades. Regrettably, the studio and chamber is now being sold. Equally enthusiastic about Ganesh is Jitendra, or rather his daughter, Ekta Kapoor, of Balaji Films, who has made more soaps than the soap industry.

The biggest problem with the Ganesh festival has been pollution. The pollution begins with the use of plaster of paris for making Ganesh images, although both the Maharashtra and Goa governments have imposed a ban on PoP Ganeshes. The other major source of pollution is styrofoam which is used to make the makar. While Maharashtra has been progressive and banned styrofoam, Goa has yet to do so.

The problem with PoP Ganeshes, which can often be 10 metres high and six metres broad, is that they do not dissolve in the sea or river in which they are immersed after the scheduled period which is normally 10 days for community Ganeshes. Finding broken hands, feet and trunks of Lord Ganesh being washed ashore after immersion is a most tragic sight.

 

PERIOD DRAMA

And a few stray thoughts on our shock over the discovery that women who have periods, or menstruation to use the correct expression, cannot take part in Ganesh celebrations even in this day and age. Obviously Hindu families in Goa are not aware of the Supreme Court judgement which has removed the ban on menstruating women between the ages of 14 and 50 visiting the famous Ayyapa temple in Kerala. It has been a rigid tradition not to allow women since Ayyapa is considered a bachelor god. Perhaps his faithful followers thought he may be tempted if pretty young women came for darshan. The bias against menstruation is so harsh that even the shadow of a menstruating woman is not supposed to fall on the image of Lord Ganesh.

Even in the 21st century there are many traditional joint families where the menstruating women are banished to the outhouse with an old saree and not allowed to enter the kitchen or play with the children. I am doubly shocked because all the goddesses that are worshipped in Goa particularly, are women. The most prominent of Goa’s goddesses is Shanta Durga who is unique because normally Durga is considered a very angry goddess. It is perhaps only in Goa that we have the concept of a calm Durga. Moreover, the Shanta Durga of the Saraswat Brahmins, is different from the Shanta Durga of the Chardos. While the Shanta Durga temple in Ponda is purely a Saraswat temple, where men from the lower castes cannot step into the sanctum sanctorum, the Shanta Durga temple in Fatorpa is far more democratic, with the Chardos — even those who are converted — having priority in worship. To all those who forbid the presence of menstruating women participating in the Ganesh festivities I would like to ask them if the Hindu goddesses were also treated like ordinary women. Did Parvathi, who in legend is the mother of Ganesh, have to undergo exile whenever she had a period? Was goddess Saraswati, whom the RSS swear by, insisting that the hymn Saraswati Vandana should be sung at the assembly in every school, subject to the absurd rules on menstruating women? What about goddess Laxmi, whom all businessmen worship during Diwali particularly, in the hope that they will earn more money? What about Gauri whose image was kept along with Lord Ganesh.

Thanks to ‘Padman’, the Twinkle Khanna film in which Akshay Kumar acted, which is based on the real story of a Tamil technician who produced low cost sanitary pads, there is greater awareness and discussion even in TV on mensuration. There are ads on hygiene linked to menstruation; even badminton silver medallist at the Olympics, Sindu, is advertising sanitary pads.

Under various government schemes you will get affordable sanitary pads and there are talks of the Goa government setting up automatic dispensers of sanitary pads in colleges, schools and railway stations. I hope organisations like the Dakshinayan Abhiyan will take up this grossly unfair discrimination against women during their periods. How long will it take the lunatics and fanatics to understand that it is a normal biological process and that if there was no menstruation they would not have been born?

GAY RIGHTS

And a few stray thoughts on the Supreme Court de-criminalising consensual gay relationships between partners of either sex. Until the Supreme Court judgement homosexuality was consider a criminal offence for which the parties could be convicted for over 10 years. Gay sex was considered almost equivalent to rape, whether it was sex between consenting men or women. The law making relations between gay couples a crime is a hangover of the British regime. The most notorious trial in a gay case is that of the famous author Oscar Wilde in the UK for which he was convicted.

One of the first homosexuals I met in my life was when I was a young journalist and Ashok Rao Kavi, the son of a film producer, openly came out and declared that he was gay. He went on to form the Hamsafar Trust, which played a major role in challenging the IPC sections which criminalised gay sex before the Supreme Court.

The police used to use the fact that being gay was a crime to extort money from homosexuals. So much so that a lot of people who were gay had to keep their relationship a top secret. I know of a very creative and talented friend in Bangalore, who kept the fact that he was gay hidden from his family all his life, until he developed aids in an unfortunate relationship and died.

In the fashion industry a lot of the designers are gay, including our own Wendell Rodricks, who has a French companion. To ensure that his French companion has equal right to his property and assets in case something happens to him, Wendell got his relationship officially registered under French law in India, as France is one of the few countries which formally recognised gay marriage.

Most of the modern western world like the US and UK have permitted not only gay marriages but also the adoption of children. Although the public knew for a long time that Karen Johar, the film director and producer of films like ADHM was gay, it took him lot of time to admit it. He is one of the filmstars who has had children through unconventional means — having two surrogate children, Yash and Roohi — and is very happy playing the role of mother as well as father.

The problem is that though the court has decriminalised gay relationships it will take a lot of time for society at large to accept it. This, despite the fact that Indian mythology is full of not only characters but also gods who are bisexual. Indeed there is a concept of Ardhanarishvara which means a mix gender. There is nothing in Hinduism against gay relationships and the walls of Khajuraho and other temples have any amount of paintings depicting homosexual sex.

Unfortunately, the decision of the Supreme Court comes at the time when the Sangh Parivar is in power. Although not directly opposing the decriminalisation of gay relationships, the RSS has said such relationships are unnatural. In fact, for hard-line right wing organisations, the only acceptable position is the missionary position and any variation is considered impure. The Supreme Court has rightly therefore asked the government to educate the general public on the details of the judgement so that they will be aware that all citizens including gays have equal rights under the Constitution.

NGT SHOCKER

And a few stray thoughts on the National Green Tribunal (NGT) giving a high voltage shock to illegal structures in the CRZ non-development zone. Over the last six decades since Liberation, thousands of illegal structures have come up on all the beaches in Goa — recently in particular in Morjim, Parsekar’s territory, and the southern beaches dominated by Churchill.

The NGT had made it clear that only the traditional houses of fishermen built before 1991 are legal. Moreover fishermen who have built homes on the beaches for their own occupation are not allowed to put them to commercial use. There are thousands of fishermen who have sold their beach front property within the no development zone to 5-star hotels and for private residences for the rich and famous and the bold and beautiful. Most of Goa’s shacks and night clubs are built on properties bought from fishermen, which have been put to commercial use.

Under the new rule all these structures have to be demolished. Not only can traditional structures built before 1991 not be transferred to any non-traditional coastal community, the court also ruled that any structures that have come up after 1991 cannot be used for commercial purposes and are not to be regularised.

INDIGESTION WARNING

And a last stray thought on indigestion, which is a mask for a wide variety of diseases like pancreatic cancer (which Chief Minister Parrikar suffers from), damage to the liver (which PWD minister Sudin Dhavalikar suffers from) and kidney failure (which former Deputy Chief Minister Francis D’Souza suffers from). While the GMC has a super speciality department for cardiac care, neuro surgery and now even cancer, it has no specialist in gastroenteritis.

So much so, it should send whoever is suffering from indigestion to either Lilavati in Mumbai or Sloan Kettering in New York for treatment at their expense. If they follow my suggestion, I hope they include me as I have serious gastro problems.

 

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