Kerala made headlines since the dawn of the New Year, as two women made history by entering the highly venerated Sabarimala Temple premises. Known to be built in the name of Lord Ayyappan, who devotees claim achieved celibate status, devotees are expected to follow strict rules before entering the premises; one being the undertaking of a 41-day penance. The rules itself were strict that for long years the entry of women above age 10 and below the age of 50 have been restricted from offering worship to the Sabarimala Shrine. Although this rule was challenged in various instances, in September 2018, the Supreme Court allowed women of all age groups to enter the Temple and ruled that the custom of barring women is illegal. However as two women entered the Temple premises to test if the judgement has been made a reality, things seem to take a different shape. Since then, a series of protests, hartals along with political and civil unrest have caused disturbances in Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram and several other cities in the Kerala District.
In such a backdrop, the Daily Mirror attempted to visit the Temple, only to be barred even before the journey began.
Kottayam is a hive of activity during the festive season in January. This is because, devotees reach Kottayam to take the train or the bus service all the way to Pamba before they reach the Temple premises. Last Monday (January 6), the Daily Mirror escorted by two other locals boarded one of these buses with the objective of reaching Pamba and observing the atmosphere. However, within seconds, a few devotees and the Police surrounded us and started questioning as to how we could get into a bus and sit without prior notice. It was then that we realised that buses have been pre-booked. They questioned us to the effect that we have committed a crime when all that we did was get into a bus that anybody could travel in. We got down as two Police women requested us to give our information including where we are from and the purpose of visit. The Daily Mirror also learned that the Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses have been chartered to take devotees until Pamba. However the situation escalated as we had to keep shifting buses until we found a bus that took normal passengers. But within seconds, a person clad in sarong identifying himself as a representative of the Sabarimala Karma Samithi questioned us as to where we are going. He in turn made sure that we didn’t reach our destination as he assumed that we are going there to add more hay into the fire.
"The attempt made by Bindu and Kanakadurga wasn’t an easy one"
"The two women were escorted by the Police amid massive protests by devotees"
"With the Supreme Court ruling out the ban, it was time for the activists to check the actuality of the judgement"
This is one of many instances that kept journalists, especially the females from reporting on the Sabarimala incidents. While covering the recent protests, Shajila Ali Fathim was repeatedly attacked by protesting BJP workers. A cameraperson attached to Kairali TV, Fathim was photographed in tears while continuing to shoot the ongoing protests at Thiruvananthapuram. Apart from her, Kavitha Jakkala, a Hyderabad based news anchor, was barred from reporting the incident. Even for social activists such as Rehana Fathim, who wanted to summit the Temple to test for the actuality of the judgement, the situation hasn’t been as pleasant as they expected.
Activists’ test for actuality of judgement
Apart from Bindu and Kanakadurga, a Sri Lankan woman was the third woman to have climbed the 18 steps. Sasikala, 46 however produced a medical certificate to prove that her uterus has been removed and that she has met all the criteria required to enter the Temple premises. Her attempt escalated the violence which took place especially in Kerala with people, mostly men doing hartal and taking to the streets demanding for ‘their share of justice.’
"Even though the Supreme Court ruled out the ban, several factions are not ready to accept it and have been protesting ever since matters took a different shape."
The attempt made by Bindu and Kanakadurga wasn’t an easy one. Their mission commenced on December 24, 2018 after a Facebook group was created to voice out for women’s equality. With the Supreme Court ruling out the ban, it was time for the activists to check the actuality of the judgement. With that in mind, these two women were determined to walk their talk. The two women were escorted by the Police amid massive protests by devotees at Apachimedu and Marakootam who have forced them to retreat. As means of supporting gender equality, psychiatrist Dr. Prasad Amore decided to back the efforts of the two women. After much planning as to how they should possibly enter, they made their grand entry on January 2. Dr. Amore’s recollections claim that none of the devotees said anything to the two women which showed that they had no problem with women entering the Sabarimala Temple. He observed that it was only the right-wing organisations and bodies such as the Sangh Parivar that opposed the entry of women.
Justice Indu Malhotra – the only lone dissenter of the case
Just two weeks after India decriminalised homosexuality, on September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled out the ban on women entering the Temple premises. However, it’s important to note that Justice Indu Malhotra was the lone woman and dissenter out of the five judges of the Constitution Bench. She in fact wasn’t of the same view as the other judges and a few of her arguments were as follows:
*The Court cannot decide which practices should be struck down except for pernicious harmful practices such as Sati.
*What constitutes ‘essential practices’ is for the devotees of the religion to decide,
*Rationality cannot be brought into faith,
*Personal views of judges are irrelevant in deciding whether religious practices have to be accepted,
*The concept of Constitutional morality in a secular society says that followers of all faiths are free to practise their faith irrespective of whether the practice is rational,
Constitutional morality implies harmonisation of rights to make sure that religious beliefs of none are obliterated or undermined,
*Grievances raised cannot be justified. Constitutional morality in a pluralistic society gives freedom to practise even irrational customs.
Even though the Supreme Court ruled out the ban, several factions are not ready to accept it and have been protesting ever since matters took a different shape. The political parties, mainly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress reacted for their own advantages. Organised protests, violence and violation of the order came to light. At the onset of the verdict BJP supporters organised a six-day rath yatra against the verdict led by its President. They continue to question how women could enter and prove how their political affiliation could rule out a verdict. Amid such clearance from the Supreme Court, women within the menstruation age still found it a challenge to summit this highly venerated destination with ongoing protests by devotees.
"Dr. Amore’s recollections claim that none of the devotees said anything to the two women which showed that they had no problem with women entering the
Sabarimala Temple. "
However, on the other hand, one may also question as to what guarantee these male devotees have to prove that they have undertaken a 41-day penance before visiting the Temple? That being said, the situation remains to be in a frenzy as women around India are inclined to visit this venerated destination and challenge opposition from male-dominated and politically-inclined bodies.