It’s the Kerala government’s huge responsibility to ensure that worship at Lord Ayyappa’s Sabarimala shrine goes on peacefully.
It’s the Kerala government’s huge responsibility to ensure that worship at Lord Ayyappa’s Sabarimala shrine goes on peacefully. Having gracefully accepted the Supreme Court order lifting the ban on women between 10 and 50 and not filing a review petition, the onus is on the Left Front government to ensure that women pilgrims going to the hill shrine aren’t harassed. A showdown has been developing on the eve of the temple’s reopening on Wednesday, with those opposing the verdict taking to the streets and issuing dire threats about suicide squads preparing to disrupt the pilgrimage. Vigilante groups also stopped cars and buses heading for the temple trekking paths and threatening women not to visit the temple.
Feelings are running high over the verdict overturning centuries of a tradition that menstruating women were barred from undertaking the pilgrimage on the plea that they were “impure” in the eyes of a bachelor deity. Two national parties that had taken a more mellow stand just after the verdict was announced last month have subsequently become belligerent in their opposition to lifting of the ban. They are clearly doing so having assessed the views of a large section of people in Kerala and determining that there is some political advantage to be gained. The chief minister, a professed atheist, and his Cabinet are being assailed for bowing to the law as laid down by the Supreme Court. But did they have any other option after having accepted the judgment in good faith and making known the new government stand on the ban in court?
Matters of faith aren’t defined in black and white. No one can produce empirical evidence in the face of ancient traditions. Those aggrieved can go to court and seek a review, which is what some groups have done. The Supreme Court has not considered it a matter to be taken up on an urgent basis and things may come to a head now on the eve of the shrine’s reopening. If the government is convinced it has to go against the Supreme Court’s order, it will have to pass a law in Parliament and be ready to have this law subjected to the top court’s review. That is the only democratic route. Until then, the Supreme Court’s ruling must be enforced and the discrimination against women of a certain age ended. Gender justice will be served if the ban, that is just a few hundred years old and was not in force since the temple was founded, is ended. On the other hand, it may offend the sensibilities of those who believe matters of faith should be beyond the courts’ purview. We are on a cleft stick here and there are no easy solutions, but we still need to follow the law.