Sabari­mala Storm Comes Home

The Pi­narayi gov­ern­ment faces stri­dent protests from Hindu out­fits over the Supreme Court ver­dict

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

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


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

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