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Sabarimala Protests: Politically Motivated?

Shilpa Shaji |
Following the SC verdict on September 28, protests had erupted against the entry of women in the temple premises, with both the Congress and BJP joining forces with the Hindutva brigade.

On September 28, the Supreme Court issued a historic judgement quashing the ban on entry of women pilgrims in the age group of 10-50 years in the Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala, Kerala. Following this judgement, a section of devotees took to streets under the banner of “Save Sabarimala” defending the “traditions of the temple and its rituals.”

The Hindutva outfits protesting against the SC decision, however, have upped their campaign to a political ploy arguing that the implementation of the verdict would hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus. The devotees who have been mobilised by the Hindutva outfits have been joined with the BJP and Congress to put pressure on the state government. The temple doors will open from October 18 for its routine monthly pujas.

On Monday, a five-day mega rally that had been conducted by the BJP against the state government’s decision to implement the apex court’s order concluded outside the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. The rally that had commenced from Pandalam of Pathanamthitta district was led by BJP state president P. S. Sreedharan Pillai. Several leaders from various Hindutva outfits and BJP MLAs from the neighbouring states had also joined the rally. 

Meanwhile, the Left Democratic front government in the state still stand firm with their decision. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has made it clear that the government would implement the apex court’s order and will not file a review petition against the SC ruling.

Read More: Celibacy of Ayyappa is an Excuse to Oppress Women

“It is not possible to file a review petition by the Kerala government against the verdict as we had told the apex court in our affidavit that we will abide by whatever the court rules,” Vijayan said.

“What everyone should understand is that this present ruling has come not because the state government filed a petition. This has been heard at the Kerala High Court and the final ruling came from the apex court. Now that it has come, we will adhere to it,” he added. 

However, contending that religious practices cannot be “tested on the basis of rationality”, multiple petitions were filed on October 8 seeking review of the September 28 verdict in the aftermath of government’s stand, but the Court declined hearing of a review plea. Nair Service Society (NSS), People for Dharma, National Ayyappa Devotees’ Association and Chetana Conscience of Women were the petitioners. 

The the mega-rally clearly comes after the right-wing faced a further setback from the apex court. So, is it a deliberate effort to destroy the state’s unity as the CM had said earlier?

In Monday’s protest, Pillai warned the state government of another massive stir saying, “If the government doesn't solve the problem within 24 hours, the NDA will be forced to bring out new forms of protests. We are peaceful protesters. No one can stop us.”

How True are BJP’s Claims about the Peaceful Nature of Protests? 

Chanting “Protest the rituals of Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala", several protests have been organised in various parts of the state since the September 28 verdict. In one of the protests on October 10,  a participant even made casteist and offensive remarks against the chief minister. This happened in a protest which was claimed as a “unity of Hindus” in the state. 

Following this, on October 11, a protest held by the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha in Thiruvananthapuram had turned violent after they barged into the official residence of Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran. As the situation went out of control, the police were forced to use water cannons and tear gas shells to control the unruly crowd in the state capital. 

In a related development, actor Kollam Thulasi at a public meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA campaign against the ruling said: “Women coming to Sabarimala temple should be ripped in half, and one half should be thrown to Delhi and the other half to the Office of Chief Minister Vijayan.” But sensing that his statement had crossed limits of decency, he quickly apologised that he never meant to hurt anyone.

Stand of various Political Parties on Sabarimala

Congress, the party leading the opposition coalition, launched agitations on October 5, criticising the government for not filing a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict. Lathika Subash, President of the Kerala Mahila Congress, pleaded with all those trying to break the traditions of Sabarimala, not to attempt to visit the temple. In many places, Congress leaders have allegedly even been witnessed taking part in the protests led by RSS and other Hindutva outfits. 

Contrary to the Kerala wing of Congress, party spokesman Randeep Surjewala in New Delhi said the party wholeheartedly welcomed “this progressive and far-reaching decision” of the Supreme Court.

Also Read: SC Upholds Women’s Right to Enter Sabarimala Temple

However, the leader of the ruling coalition, Communist Party of India (Marxist)  [CPI(M)], welcomed the historic judgement from the apex court, terming it as a significant step towards ensuring that women are not discriminated against in every field in the society. Party state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan in a Facebook post said that the verdict is in consonance with the stand of the previous LDF government in the top court. The party has also said that the opposition to the Supreme Court order has “exposed the hypocrisy and patriarchal worldview of some political parties and caste organisations”.

The RSS, in 2016, had taken a stand that women should have the right of entry to all temples. But this position has been reversed when it came to the Sabarimala. In a statement, RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi said, “In the case of Sabarimala Devasthanam, it is an issue of a local temple tradition and faith to which the sentiments of millions of devotees, including women, are attached. These sentiments of devotees cannot be ignored while considering the judgement.” In Kerala, the RSS chief Gopalankutty stated that the Sangh would honour the judgement but the very next day they reversed their stand sensing political gains. 

Shiv Sena threatens Mass Suicides if women enter Sabarimala

The Kerala unit of Shiv Sena on Saturday threatened to stage mass suicides if women in the 10-50 years age group are allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple. P. Aji, a senior Shiv Sena leader, told IANS that their "suicide squads" comprising men and women above 50 are ready for the supreme sacrifice. “Our members will be stationed at various places in and around the (Sabarimala) temple and if any woman not supposed to enter the temple is granted to get access, then the suicide squad members will take their lives,” warned Aji.

“We want the temple tradition and culture to be protected and that's our only demand. Hundreds of our activists will reach the temple town on October 17. and guard all entry points to the famed temple,” added Aji.

Shiv Sena had earlier given a call for Kerala shutdown as well, but withdrew citing bad whether predictions. But this latest threat comes in light of gender equality activist Trupti Desai announcing on Saturday her decision to enter the temple shortly. Despite the threats the activist said on October 10 that she is still determined to visit the temple.

“We will announce a date very soon to visit the Sabarimala Temple as the apex court has upheld the fundamental rights of women... There should be no attempt to stop us because we now have equal rights,” Desai said while speaking to a Malayalam TV channel in Mumbai. She had played a major role in opening up the doors of shrines like Mumbai's Haji Ali dargah to women.

Reacting sharply to the remarks of the activist who is also the founder of the Pune-based Bhumata Brigade, Kerala Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President P. S. Sreedharan Pillai said that Desai should not challenge the emotions and feelings of the devotees of the temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.

Meanwhile, the Sabarimala tantri family has filed a review petition against the apex court order, requesting that there should be no dilution of the traditions of the temple. The apex court will hear the petition on October 28.

500 Women Police Personnel to be Deputed at Sabarimala

The Kerala Police is gearing up to tighten security at the temple which will open for its monthly pujas on October 18. Talking to reporters, the Kerala Police chief said they are planning to depute 500 women police personnel at the temple.

“Laws have to be adhered to as faith is different and duty is different. Our police force consists of 6,000 women police officials and we need 500 for the Sabarimala temple... They will be posted,” said Behra.

While the main two-month-long festival season of the Sabarimala temple will begin in the third week of November, the temple opena for a few days during the beginning of the month according to the Malayalam calendar.  

(Inputs from IANS)

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