In the wake of the Sabarimala row, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani stirred up a controversy with her remark on menstruating women entering temples. “I am nobody to speak on the Supreme Court verdict because I am a current serving Cabinet Minister. But just plain common sense. Would you take sanitary napkins steeped in menstrual blood and walk into a friend’s home? You will not. And do you think that it is respectful to do the same when you walk into the house of God? So that is the difference. I have a right to pray. I do not have the right to desecrate. That is my personal opinion,” she said in Young Thinkers’ Conference organised by ORF on October 23.

We are in conversation with Union Minister of textiles,Smt Smriti Irani; Moderated by Mr Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation at the #YTC2018

Posted by ORF Mumbai on Monday, 22 October 2018

Soon after, social media was brimming with those criticising Irani’s remarks, which she claimed was “fake news”.

Subsequently, several journalists pointed out to Irani that it was she who had fallen for fake news as no reports suggest that women entered Sabarimala with blood-soaked sanitary pads.

A fictitious tale

BJP MP Smriti Irani’s remark seemed to be the outcome of a rumour which claimed that activist Rehana Fatima carried a blood-soaked sanitary napkin in her ‘Irumudikkettu’ (a prayer offering to God) to Sabarimala.

Pro-BJP Kerala media outlet Janam TV gave birth to the grapevine, according to Newslaundry. In an article published on October 19, Janam TV made the aforestated claim which was subsequently viral on social media (1, 2, 3, 4).

However, as with most rumours, its original version changed with progression. Subsequent to Irani’s remark, several right-wing Twitter handles came to the Union Minister’s defence and alleged that Fatima carried a soiled pad on her head.

But Irani, in her clarification, seemed to suggest that she hadn’t fallen for misinformation. The minister tweeted that she was “yet to find a person who ‘takes’ a blood-soaked napkin to ‘offer’ to anyone let alone a friend.”

Then why exactly did the Union Textile Minister make the remark in the first place at the youth conference?

Fake news begets fake news

There is no reasonable explanation for Smriti Irani’s statement about blood-soaked sanitary napkins apart from the reference to the alleged incident involving Rehana Fatima. Moreover, there are no reported cases of women ever carrying soiled pads to temples, or anywhere else for that matter.

When Alt News contacted Rehana Fatima, she brushed off the rumours as “fake news” and added that she wasn’t visiting Sabarimala to protest, but to pray. We also contacted Kerala police for confirmation and they denied that any activist or woman carried a sanitary pad – used or unused – inside the temple.

The BJP MP seemed to imply in her tweet that she hadn’t fallen for misinformation but her rhetorical clarification did little to exonerate her as there is no justification for merely mentioning that women might carry blood-soaked pads inside temples.

Moreover, Irani’s other statements were also an attempt to rationalise the religious impositions on women by drawing parallels with Zoroastrianism, which also disallows menstruating women from entering a fire temple. This further hinted at the Union Minister’s stand against the entry of menstruating women in places of worship.

Aaj Tak’s Executive Director Sweta Singh joins the bandwagon of absurdity

After The Wire’s Siddharth Varadarajan tweeted about Smriti’s Irani’s remark, Aaj Tak’s Executive Director Sweta Singh came to her defence and tweeted that “even in the Vatican mini-skirts are not allowed”. When Varadarajan pointed out that soiled sanitary napkins are thrown out by women and not carried on ‘tours’, Singh remarked that if Varadarajan was unaware of the ‘tour’ Smriti Irani was referring to, he should have refrained from commenting on the subject. Singh, however, failed to mention the ‘tour’ she was talking about.

Despite police statements clarifying that no such incident of carrying sanitary pads – used or unused – took place, the Executive Director of one of the most popular news organisations seemed to have fallen for the same misinformation as Smriti Irani.

The Prime Minister’s Union Cabinet has 26 ministers, out of which only four are women. As one among this meagre number, Smriti Irani’s recent statements set a dangerous precedent as her views may be seen as a barometer to the government’s approach toward women’s issues. She not only seemingly fell for a social media rumour but used the misinformation to further her stand against the entry of menstruating women in Sabarimala.

About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.