LEft’S WALL of WoMEn to countER congRESS, BJP
TheLDF government has decided to bring one million women on to the streets of Kerala on 1 January, from Kasaragod to state capital.
Even two months after the historic Supreme Court verdict allowing young women’s entry into the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, the pilgrimage centre continues to dominate Kerala politics, though the core issue has been pushed to the background. The latest is a state governmentsponsored plan to form a “Wall of Women” to protect the “secular values” of the state. While a host of petitions challenging its ruling are pending with the Supreme Court and a few in the Kerala High Court, political parties are working overtime to keep the issue alive as long as possible. It is now a matter of life and death for many of its leaders than shielding Lord Ayyappa from young women. And so far, no woman in the age group of 10 to 50 has set her toe on the foot of the 18 steps leading to the shrine. The Left Front government, which was seemingly in a hurry initially to make young women’s entry possible there, now says it was never in any haste to do so. After the recent ruling of the Kerala High Court banning any kind of protests in and around the Sabarimala temple during the ongoing pilgrimage season, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was spearheading the agitation there, has now shifted its action to the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. The party has launched a relay fast, but so far has not spelt out what its demands are other than saying that the communist government was out to destroy Lord Ayyappa. The party seems to be divided over the issue, with its lone MLA calling for a dialogue with the government, while the hardliners want the party to intensify its agitation. Now that the party’s militant face, state general secretary K. Surendran, behind bars for the past three weeks, has been granted bail, the BJP may redraw its strategy. But since the court has barred Surendran from entering Pathanamthitta district, where the Sabarimala temple is situated, it is to be seen how the party plans its next phase of agitation.
The opposition Congressled United Democratic Front still maintains its old stated stand that the party was with the believers and has taken its agitation into the state Assembly, which is currently in session. While its members have been stalling the proceedings inside the House, three of its MLAs are on an indefinite satyagraha outside the Assembly hall since 3 December, demanding withdrawal of prohibitory orders in and around Sabarimala. Acccording to the Leader of the Opposition, Ramesh Chennithala, UDF would continue its agitation till such time the government lifts curbs and reduces police deployment at the shrine. However, the Kerala High Court had said the continuing police restrictions and prohibitory orders in Sabarimala were not affecting devotees. In fact it has set up a three-man committee of two former judges and an IPS officer to oversee security and other arrangements at the shrine. The committee members have been going around the temple and more or less approved of the government action there. However, the state government has now approached the Supreme Court, saying the High Court order amounted to “interference with the executive function of the state”. Meanwhile, peace prevails in Sabarimala, with the number of pilgrims showing an increase after the initial hesitancy due to con- tinuing tension in the area. But complaints regarding inadequate facilities such as toilets and rest rooms continue to dog the administration. That the government had not done any ground work regarding such facilities in the aftermath of the floods is for all to see.
As the Congress and BJP continue their parallel agitations against the government in the name of Sabarimala, the state government’s decision to bring one million women on to the streets of Kerala on 1 January has sparked yet another controversy. The decision to form a women’s wall from the northern district of Kasaragod to state capital Thiruvananthapuram to “counter divisive forces” (read Sangh Parivar) was taken at a meeting of 170 social and cultural organisations belonging to various Hindu communities convened by the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan last week. Organisations representing Muslim and Christian communities were conspicuously absent from the meeting. It was later learnt that they were not invited. Ironically, a large number of devotees from these communities visit Sabarimala every year. Though the objective of the wall is supposedly to “pro- tect the values of renaissance and gender equality”, both Congress and BJP see it as a government ploy to implement the Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala. Hence, they have decided to thwart the government move. They have got a shot in the arm with the Nair Service Society, which has been in the forefront of all past renaissance movements in the state, deciding to dissociate itself from the wall. A few Hindu organisations that had taken part in the meeting too have subsequently withdrawn from the government initiative. Interestingly, observers see it as a clever political move by the CPM to defeat both BJP and Congress agitations against the government. CPM is a past master in organising human chain protests even for the cause of Palestinian struggle against Israel. But in this case, it is the government and not the party which is using its machinery to make political gains in the name of renaissance. More than a “stunt”, as is termed by the Opposition, many fear the effort by the government will only widen the divide already formed in Kerala society following the Supreme Court order on Sabarimala. A Delhi-based firm is setting up a plant which will convert used cooking oil (UCO) into bio-diesel, which will help the country save foreign exchange and reduce pollution as it is eco-friendly. The plant, coming up at Bawal in Haryana, with the capacity of producing 100-tonne of biodiesel per day, will be operational from January.
BioD Energy India will use UCO, a waste, along with animal fat and crude palm oil, which contain free fatty acids, to make bio-diesel. This will be the biggest plant in North India which uses the latest technology to produce bio-diesel, which is a zero polluting fuel. Bio-diesel is used extensively by transport operators, rural pump sets and diesel generators as it is cheaper than diesel and also eco-friendly.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, the company’s CEO, Shiva Vig said the production of bio-diesel will not only reduce dependence on imported crude oil, but also fight pollution, managing illegal discharge of UCO into the drainage system, which contaminates water and clogs the drainage system. At the same time, he said, it will also check adulteration of edible oil to a great extent.
The company, which uses Chinese technology to produce bio-diesel, is setting up another plant of similar capacity in Dubai for export- ing bio-diesel from there to Europe, where the fuel is in high demand. FSSAI has authorised the company to collect UCO from Delhi-NCR, Haryana and Punjab.
Earlier, there was a price ceiling on the sale of bio-diesel. Also, there was restriction on selling bio-diesel to state-run oil manufacturing companies. However, the Narendra Modi government abolished the ceiling and made the market free, thereby allowing the companies to sell the product directly to consumers.
“At present, used cooking oil of hotels and restaurants are purchased locally and sold to street vendors, who use the same oil for cooking edible items like samosa, pakoda, etc, which is hazardous to health. However, for us, UCO is the best raw material to make bio-diesel. Therefore, it will reduce health- related issues too. Thus, a waste product will be converted into renewable energy, which will also reduce burden on the import of bio-diesel,” said Vig.
Use of cooking oil is extremely harmful to health. Medical studies have shown that consumption of used cooking oil leads to life-