There’s no definite decision on the Sabarimala issue. There has has to be a middle ground.
The Supreme Court, by turning down the request to urgently hear the review petition against its earlier ruling on Sabarimala, allowing menstrual women to enter the shrine of the celibate Lord Ayyappa, has shown that delicate matters need adept handling and mature consideration. And that its hands won’t be forced just because the shrine is to be reopened on October 16 and believers need to feel that they are victorious over what the apex court allowed as a fair, democratic right. Sadly, the real purpose of the ruling, to ensure that divinity was gender-neutral and equally accessible, has got lost in the sea of rampant politicking over caste concerns and votebank politics. Challenging customs and rituals set by patriarchal orders, that have now acquired the solidity of established tradition, is tricky business. Which is why Justice Indu Malhotra had insisted that a fine line be drawn between jurisprudence and cultural practice as a secular right. Now this exact clause has been seized upon by believers, some of whom are women themselves, to argue that abstention from the temple premises was entirely voluntary and not about denial of women’s rights. A clutch of women devotees and the powerful Nair community claim that Kerala has one of the highest development indices for women and those of reproductive age stay away to honour the “eternal celibate” status of Lord Ayyappa and his asceticism. Though they may have no rationale to explain why their god should be universal and not selective, fact is this cultural marker is now a rallying point, strong enough to gather political traction.
The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government has further aggravated faith politics by hastily agreeing to implement the Supreme Court verdict in toto without talking to temple trustees and inviting devotee groups to work out an acceptable solution. In fact, its haste, though honourable, was interpreted as impinging on people’s consciousness and free will and, therefore, sparked off a huge wave of indignation. Agreed, it did not want to file the review petition but it prevented even the shrine board from filing one, thereby narrowing the door of rapprochement. Besides, it also ruined the easy relationship it had with the Nair community and may have lost crucial support in the run-up to the general elections. Despite knowing the particular angularities of the Sabarimala case first-hand, the LDF’s ineptitude at a time when it is facing anti-incumbency and charges of corruption has given the opposition parties a platter to go to the people with. So although both the BJP and Congress had initially welcomed the ruling allowing women entry, both have now done a U-turn, the former aggressively consolidating the religion plank, the latter peddling soft Hindutva as usual. Both have realised that no electoral mathematics is as encashable as popular feelings and sentiments. So both parties are busy upstaging each other organising fasts and agitations along the Ayyappa circuit as it were. In Sabarimala, the BJP-RSS combine has found that one chord that matches its own agenda — that of the centrality of popular faith and core belief, one that has shaped its Ayodhya campaign too — and sees a genuine possibility of making massive inroads in a new State it desperately needs to boost its national tally. Meanwhile, if the situation has to be contained, then all stakeholders need to meet and decide an acceptable middle path. Honouring local culture is one thing but it should not be exploited as a political or propagandist tool. Most important, are views of all women devotees in Kerala in sync? Do they all want to stay away from Ayyappa or follow male diktats?
Writer: The Pioneer
Source: The Pioneer