Sabarimala — Does the Lord Disapprove or Is it Just a Matter of Time?

The Supreme Court’s verdict to allow women of all ages to enter the holy temple grounds of the Sabarimala in Kerala has attracted controversies from every nook and corner of our country. Only when you think the dust has settled and the devotees will carry on with their lives, another protest erupts and people are scrutinising the verdict all over again.
As such a diverse and secular country, we are not strangers to dissent over religious matters. The building of the temple for Lord Ram in Ayodhya was one such incident where disagreement between the two religious parties caused violent protests. That being a precedent, it was not rocket science to predict that there will be dispute over changing such an age-old tradition of not allowing menstruating women between the ages of 10 to 50, into the sacred temple of Lord Ayyappa (who was a known to be a ‘perennial celibate’), on grounds of purity. Starting from controversial comments to protests at the site of the temple, the reactions to the verdict have kept everyone on their toes. Smriti Irani’s tweet on menstruating women ignited uproars on the internet, raising some very important questions, “Isn’t menstruation a natural phenomenon?’’

In the “olden” days, before the advent of toilets and sanitary napkins, menstruating women did not have the freedom to leave the house owing to hygiene issues. Moreover, Sabarimala temple is atop a hill and in a forest area, that can still be a challenge to even a seasoned trekker. It is only logical for the people of that time to decide that only the men can make it to the top, despite not having the sanitary luxuries that women need. In recent times, when women are climbing the Mount Everest successfully, it was only a matter of time before they wanted to enter other grounds monopolised by men.

The apex court ruled,“Restrictions can’t be treated as essential religious practice,” allowing women of all ages to enter the holy shrine since the restrictions discriminated them, on the basis of their gender, which is against their fundamental rights as Indian citizens. Ironically, the only woman on the 5-judge bench disagreed, saying that courts should not be involved in religious practices; which was incidentally the view of most. The Kerala government however, is speculating to request the apex court to review their verdict once again due to all the protests that erupted in the vicinity of the temple, following the judgement.

Clearly a lot of devotees and public alike, are against the judgement for their own private reasons. Some of them have been criticized for making controversial comments publicly. For instance, a former chief of TDB stated that women should not be allowed to enter until a machine was invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’- meaning when they are not menstruating. In another incident, woman named Rehana Fathima, was prevented from entering the temple’s premises although it is not fundamentally against the principles of the temple management to allow people of other religion entering. It is explicitly stated on the website that, “The temple is open to people belonging to all religions.” And yet the woman received backlash for her genuine attempts to enter the holy shrine. Her home was vandalised even before she could go back. Such extreme reactions are unwarranted and cannot be accepted in the name of religion. No religion encourages violence to protect traditions.

According to the analysis provided by the police who were posted at the hill for security for the Chithira Attam Festival, only 200 people of the 7300 who visited were ‘real’ devotees. The rest of the crowd was mobilised by BJP and RSS from across the state. This report came amidst claims that, Kerala BJP chief Sreedharan Pillai was heard saying this was a golden opportunity for his party. A clip of him speaking at Yuva Morcha Meet went viral on the internet in which he said that the head priest consulted him before shutting the temple and that the agitation was ‘BJP’s agenda’. This has sparked suspicion that the BJP leaders have in fact been conniving to create trouble at the Sabarimala.

So far, thousands have been arrested during last violent protests while attempting to implement the Supreme Court ruling and large number of cases have been registered in connection with the same. These are results of the overt reactions to the ruling. It is to be understood that the court will intervene when any religious restriction or requirement is against the constitutional/moral right of a citizen. When sati was abolished, it was very much a religious practice, but it was against humanity. Although it was not accepted by everybody then, it seems absurd now to ask a woman to immolate herself when her husband dies. Similarly, it is possible that people from all religions will one day come to accept this ruling. Maybe it is only a matter of time.

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