Sabarimala verdict: Devotion vs gender equality

The political turbulence triggered by the protests over the implementation of Sabarimala verdict and the steep decline in tourist arrival due to floods affected the state’s revenue slowing down the re

Published: 31st December 2018 03:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st December 2018 03:03 AM   |  A+A-

Sabarimala temple

Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple (File | EPS)

Express News Service

The political turbulence triggered by the protests over the implementation of Sabarimala verdict and the steep decline in tourist arrival due to floods affected the state’s revenue slowing down the rebuilding of the flood-ravaged state during the last quarter of the year. The ruling CPM had its hour of shame as the party had to suspend Shoranur MLA P K Sasi for six months following charges of sexual abuse of a woman leader. The untimely demise of gifted violinist Balabhaskar and the loss of KPCC vice-president M I Shanavas and filmmaker Thampi Kannanthanam saddened the state

The Sabarimala verdict has triggered tectonic ripples in Kerala, a complex society where divergent faiths, customs and cultures coexist. In its September 28 verdict, the Supreme Court struck down the age-old customs and allowed young women to enter the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala.

In its 4:1 verdict, the five-judge bench, headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra with Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra granted entry for young women to Sabarimala, breaking the age-old custom of restricting women in the age group of 10-50 from entering the hill shrine. While Justice Dipak Misra said a woman is not inferior to a man and patriarchy cannot be permitted to trump over faith, Justice Indu Malhotra, the only woman and dissenting judge, said issues of deep religious sentiments should not see the court’s interference.

The verdict divided the Kerala society vertically, triggering a debate on the right to practice religion and gender equality. According to devotees who oppose the restrictions on the entry of young women, the deity in Sabarimala, Swami Ayyappa, is a Naishtika Brahmachari, who observes perennial celibacy. Only a devotee who observes 41 days of penance abstaining from all worldly vices can undertake the arduous trek.

The Nair Service Society (NSS), the Thantri Samajam and a majority of devotees vehemently opposed the implementation of the verdict claiming it will dilute the concept of Sabarimala. Thousands of women took to the streets conducting prayer processions opposing the implementation of the verdict.

Though close to a dozen women turned up to trek the holy hills, they had to return disenchanted as the protesters blocked their way. Even the huge police deployment along the trek route from Nilakkal to Sannidhanam did not deter the protesters.

Though the RSS and BJP were initially in support of implementing the verdict, they had to change their stance in view of the sentiments of the devotees and groundswell of protest brewing across the state. Tension prevailed at Sabarimala from October 17, when the temple opened for monthly poojas as devotes and vigilantes checked the buses and forced young women to return. This forced the government to impose prohibitory orders at Sabarimala for the entire season.

Despite its progressive overtones, the LDF Government walked the tricky tightrope refusing to budge before the stiff resistance put up by the devotees led by Sangh Parivar while reaffirming its commitment to implement the Supreme Court verdict.

With only 20 days left for the two-month-long festival to conclude, the government, the rights activists and the conservative devotees eagerly await January 22, when the five-member Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will review the verdict.

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