Sabarimala Storm Comes Home
The Pinarayi government faces strident protests from Hindu outfits over the Supreme Court verdict
Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government, which hailed the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women entry into the Sabarimala temple, finds itself in a bind. Publicly decrying the judgment, several rightwing Hindu groups, which purportedly have the backing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the custodians of the shrine have launched protests and demanded a review of the verdict before the pilgrimage season begins on November 17.
“The Kerala government will execute the [court’s] order and facilitate the entry of women of all ages to the temple from the forthcoming pilgrimage season,” Vijayan declared after the September 30 verdict. He even convened a meeting of senior state secretaries and police officials to discuss how the court’s order would be executed.
But on the streets, the protests grew. Pandalam, home to the Pandalam royals who revere Ayyappa, the resident deity of Sabarimala, rang out with strident chants of ‘Swami sharanam! Ayyappa
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sharanam!’ Curiously, several women joined the protests, blocking roads on October 2. Similar demonstrations were witnessed in Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Kochi and Palakkad. A ‘Save Sabarimala’ campaign launched by devotees vowed to block women of ‘inappropriate age’ from entering the shrine.
When the Sabarimala case first came up for hearing in 2011, the then Congress-led United Democratic Front government had endorsed the views of the Pandalam royals and Sabarimala chief priest’s family that women of ‘menstrual age’ be barred from the temple. This was based on the traditional belief that Ayyappa is celibate. At that time, both the RSS and the BJP were in favour of removing the restrictions against women in temples.
Now, as the row simmers again, comments by CPI(M) legislators have further embarrassed Vijayan. A. Padmakumar, who is also president of the Travancore Devaswom Board, said women from his family would not visit Sabarimala and respect the traditions of the temple. He was evidently trying to appease his Nair community, which makes up 19 per cent of Kerala’s population.
G. Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society (NSS), has joined the Pandalam royal family and the chief priest’s family in filing a review petition in the Supreme Court. Fringe
Hindu outfits have also hardened their position against the verdict. Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad founder Pravin Togadia joined forces with the Save Sabarimala campaign and announced a protest march from Pandalam to Thiruvananthapuram on October 14.
The BJP, too, has jumped in. “The government is playing with fire. We will not allow it to enact hidden agendas,” said state BJP chief P.S. Sreedharan Pillai.
Shilpa Nair, a member of the BJP’s NRI cell based out of Dubai, is spearheading protests across the southern states. “I’m ready to wait to follow the traditions of the temple. I feel it’s time Ayyappa devotees unite and protest against the verdict,” Nair told india today.
Vijayan’s attempts to negotiate with the royal family of Pandalam and the chief priest’s family have come a cropper, with both refusing to meet him on October 8. The CPI(M)’s attempts to reach out to the NSS, too, have yielded no results so far. “The state government has to enforce the Supreme Court’s verdict and ensure the entry of all women into the temple,” says Kochibased lawyer and media critic A. Jayashankar. “But faith has no logic, only emotions.”
MATTER OF FAITH Ayyappa devotees protest against the SC judgment in Pandalam, Kerala