Holding that the menstrual status of a woman is deeply personal and an intrinsic part of her privacy, the Supreme Court on Friday said social stigma associated with the biological and physiological process of a woman has no place in a constitutional order and any discrimination on that basis cannot be allowed.
Allowing entry of all women devotees, irrespective of age, inside the Sabarimala Temple, the majority verdict of a five-judge Constitution bench said menstruation age could not be a ground to create any social and religious barrier for women to enjoy rights to equality and dignity given under the Constitution and to exclude them on that basis would be derogatory to equal citizenship.
“The stigma around menstruation has been built up around traditional beliefs in the impurity of menstruating women. They have no place in a constitutional order. These beliefs have been used to shackle women, deny them equal entitlements and subject them to the dictates of a patriarchal order. The menstrual status of a woman cannot be a valid constitutional basis to deny her the dignity of being and the autonomy of personhood…The Constitution must treat it as a feature on the basis of which no exclusion can be practised and no denial can be perpetrated. No body or group can use it as a barrier in a woman’s quest for fulfilment, including in her finding solace in the connect with the creator,” Justice D Y Chandrachud said in his judgment.
Justice Chandrachud said treating menstruation as polluting or impure and imposing exclusionary disabilities on the basis of menstrual status is against the dignity of women which is guaranteed by the Constitution. Appealing for a change of mindset regarding menstruation, he said practices which legitimise menstrual taboos limit the ability of menstruating women to attain freedom of movement, right to education and right of entry to places of worship and, eventually, their access to the public sphere.
“Irrespective of the status of a woman, menstruation has been equated with impurity, and the idea of impurity is then used to justify their exclusion from key social activities. Our society is governed by the Constitution. The values of constitutional morality are a non-derogable entitlement. Notions of purity and pollution, which stigmatise individuals, can have no place in a constitutional regime,” he said. “Prejudice against women based on notions of impurity and pollution associated with menstruation is a symbol of exclusion. The social exclusion of women, based on menstrual status, is but a form of untouchability which is an anathema to our constitutional values,” Justice Chandrachud said.
Delving on the social stigma associated with menstruation, Justice R F Nariman said all the older religions speak of the phenomenon as being impure, forbidding women’s participation in religious activities but the more recent religions have accepted it as a natural process which cannot be ground for discrimination.
“However, in the more recent religions such as Sikhism and the Bahá‘í Faith, a more pragmatic view of menstruation is taken, making it clear that no ritualistic impurity is involved. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib deems menstruation as a natural process — free from impurity and essential to procreation. Similarly, in the Bahá‘í Faith, the concept of ritual uncleanness has been abolished by Bahá‘u‘lláh,” Justice Nariman said.