The Supreme Court’s decision to refer the Sabarimala issue to a larger Bench underscores the need for a thorough review and wider consultation on the earlier verdict that allowed entry of women in the 10-50 age group into the hill shrine. It opens the door for a fresh look into the faith versus law debate. Though the five-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice could have lent some clarity on how the earlier order should be treated now that it will be reviewed by a seven-judge Bench, the latest turn of events can indeed be seen as a sort of victory for the faith of the devotees of Lord Ayyappa.
In a front-paged editorial following the SC verdict last year, TNIE argued for upholding the rights of the faithful and safeguarding the rituals of the temple. It said the crux of the matter is faith but the debate was wrongly pegged on the taboo attached to the menstruality of women. The restrictions in Sabarimala are more on Ayyappa, a Naishtika Brahmachari practising the severest form of celibacy, than on women and they are self-imposed because the Lord does not want his penance disturbed. The issue was not about morality, equal rights or emancipation but about a traditional ritual that wasn’t harmful to society as such, it argued.
A year on, a review of the verdict has resulted in an inconclusive outcome, one that is open to interpretations. But one thing is clear—the matter is still under review and any conclusion drawn will be valid only till the larger Bench comes out with its verdict. Dangerously enough, political parties and other organisations have already come out with their own interpretations and the sense one gets is that of unease. If it has learnt any lesson from the turmoil that followed the SC order last year, the Kerala government will tread carefully this time. The absence of a stay should not be treated as an opportunity to forcibly implement the earlier order. Better sense must prevail and various stakeholders, including the government, must patiently await the final outcome without doing anything to disrupt peace in society in general and the sanctity of the shrine in particular.