On 19 October, 2018, Dr Subramanian Swamy, a Rajya Sabha MP nominated by BJP, sent out a series of tweets justifying the demand that women should not be allowed to enter Sabarimala. The arguments to support this ban have emerged from the ancient notion that menstrual blood is impure. Dr Swamy’s contention was that the women should not be allowed inside the temple due to health reasons.
He claimed that “admission of women in menstruation period in Sabarimalai was to protect the women from mutation from gravitational matrix“. He further claimed the during the menstruation period, “the gravitational matrix in the said temple can affect pregnancy“.
The denial of admission of women in menstruation period in Sabarimalai was not twisted to their being “unclean” and that instead it was to protect the women from mutation from gravitational matrix of the Temple location then such women would have voluntarily abstained from coming
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) October 19, 2018
A compromise in Sabarimalai Temple issue proposed: 1) Menstruating women are not in the eyes of the divinity impure 2) However during that period the gravitational matrix in the said temple can affect pregnancy 3) Hence such women as a custom voluntarily don’t enter the temple
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) October 18, 2018
Dr Swamy’s tweets were seen as a reversal of his position from what he had expressed right after the Supreme Court verdict where he suggested that he had always been advocating gender equality in worship on the Sabarimala issue. He had even suggested that the Supreme Court order should be enforced with the assistance of military.
I am happy that SC has decided that gender equality in worship is to be followed in Sabarimalai. This what I had been advocating
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) September 28, 2018
Thereafter, Dr Swamy changed his position on the Sabarimala issue and suggested that the supreme court should reconsider its verdict.
In the course of this article, we will examine Dr Swamy’s scientific claim that a unique ‘gravitational matrix’ within the Sabarimala temple may be a cause of genetic mutations in women thereby impacting their health.
What is a gravitational matrix?
Dr Swamy claims that there is something called as ‘gravitational matrix’ which is a distinct form of gravitational force only present in the Sabarimala Temple. Many theories including that of Newton and Einstein have tried to explain gravitation – the phenomenon that attracts everything with mass and energy to one another. Matrix theory of gravitation is one such proposed theory which is identical to what Einstein estimated.
Gravity is the force of attraction that pins us to Earth and prevents us from floating off our roughly spherical planet. This force of gravity throughout the land’s surface on Earth is largely the same, at least perceptually. Due to changes in ground altitude from the sea level across the Earth’s land surfaces, there may be a small variation in the gravitational forces. This is because gravity changes as we go further away or higher in altitude from the sea level on Earth.
NASA and the European space agency map have extremely sensitive accelerometers that have mapped out the gravitational field of Earth with over 3 billion points. With this form of high resolution, there were differences of gravitation measured by the gravitational acceleration (standard g= 9.80665 m/s2), i.e. the speed gained by an object in a free fall due to gravity. For example, Mount Nevado Huascarán in Peru has the lowest gravitational acceleration, at 9.7639 m/s2, while the highest is at the surface of the Arctic Ocean, at 9.8337 m/s2. As opposed to the minimal or lack of gravity in space, this difference due to uneven landmasses on Earth is just 0.7% and has no impact on any complex living organism such as humans.
What is a genetic mutation?
Our body’s entire set of genetic material is called our genome- which is packed in smaller bundles called chromosomes. Our chromosomes reside in the nucleus of our cells that carry the genetic information (or genes) for growth, development and other bodily functions. This genetic material (genotype) is largely inherited and determines physical attributes (phenotype) such as height, skin colour or eye colour of a newborn. These genes are made of several molecules of DNA which can be broken or changed due to a mutation.
However, there are other ways to change this genetic material. While mutations are permanent changes to genetic material that can occur at random, either during replication of genes, which is an ongoing process of new cell formation and growth, external influences can such as prolonged exposure to chemicals or UV light can also cause mutations. While most of these mutations are harmless, and can be automatically ‘fixed’ by your body’s internal mechanism, a small fraction of them can be either injurious or beneficial to humans. For example, certain mutations can provide resistance to HIV, while others can often cause many diseases, for example skin cancer or melanoma caused due to prolonged sun exposure that can cause mutations in the melanin pigment producing cells int he skin.
Even if there was some mutation causing factor (mutagen) at Sabarimala temple complex, it cannot selectively and precisely cause mutation only in women between the age of 10-50 and spare the rest of female and male devotees, just like the sun’s UV rays.
Is there a link between female bodies and Sabarimala?
Like most bodily functions there is a lot of variability in menstruation. The age of menarche (start of menstruation) and menopause (end of menstruation) often goes beyond the range of 10-50. Women regularly and naturally start menstruation as young as 9 years old and continue having it, often beyond the age of 50. With respect to menstruation or fertility, the age segment doesn’t seem to be justified. Even so, small changes in gravitation has no impact on menstruating women’s bodies, unless they are in space, which is more of a logistical issue in hygiene.
Studies on women astronauts have shown that even large gravitational changes such as a spaceflight had no impact on women’s reproductive health or fertility. For reference, the international space station in the Earth’s orbit in the space has about 90% of the Earth’s gravity. This is about 9-10% change in gravitational force and impacts neither genders’ fertility, except the supportive tissues such as muscles and bones.
Hence, it is unlikely for any smaller gravitational change on Earth to cause any short- or long-term physiological damage, or even so, in a particular gender or age-group.
Along with making little scientific sense, Dr Swamy’s tweets are particularly problematic as they shift the onus of ban on women of a particular age-group, by suggesting that the ban was actually in their favour to protect their health.