Sanctum to Sanction — The Sabarimala Issue

Being a land of differences and diversities: economic, cultural, linguistics, psychological, political and ideological orientations, India continues to be a land of mutual co-existence, respect and thus occupies a unique position in upholding the values of unity in the global as well as national scenario. However, this fame cannot justify the fact that India didn’t have a smooth run in dealing with various issues of the above mentioned aspects over the period of time. It has undergone bloody revolts, upheavals, unrest and intolerance among various groups but the success was achieved as a result of the maturity the nation has displayed especially in terms of acceptance, legal and constitutional frameworks that necessarily prevented the nation from the risk and threat of a civil war.

In this very context, the idea of secularism and religious right are worth mentioning especially when India is home to 7 major religions of the world namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism and the constitution provides legal protection for the practice and propagation of the same. Totally in contrast to the principles of democracy and republic, Religion alone is a distinctive and prime factor in India that has a very imperative role in the political sphere that could necessarily even decide the future of the government and can even impact upon the financial matter. One of the recent issue that has put the judicial system and the state government in pressure is the Supreme court verdict granting the permission for women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple of Kerala.

Sabarimala Shri Dharmasastha temple is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa who is an ardent practitioner of celibacy and hence women belonging to the age group of 10-50 are restricted from entering the sanctum or the Holy shrine. It is believed that the Tantric family of ‘ThazhamonMadom’ descended from Tamil Nadu is the founder of the Sabarimala temple. Though it is widely believed that the present temple and shrine was constructed under the influence of the tantric family, various historical records state that the temple and the land is actually the belonging of a tribal group settled there. The legal fight regarding women’s right was not something that has spurred all of a sudden. Rather it dates backs to 1991 when the first case was filed questioning the entry of women to the temple.

Recently, in the month of October 2018, the Supreme Court in its landmark judgment with 4:1 majority has given the verdict granting permission for the entry of women to the temple. Further the court also ordered the state government to provide security and protection to the women demanding an entry to the temple. The verdict however spurred wide-ranging protests as well as support from various communities and activists. The state and the central government wholeheartedly welcomed the verdict whereas the congress party and the BJP in the state have protested against this verdict. It can be well observed that the situation was very much exploited by the political parties to turn around the political scenario in Kerala in the wake of upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The RSS and the BJP has initiated protests, revolts and attacks in order to prevent women from entering the temple.

Three activists from Mumbai were stopped in the airport and in an extreme situation the devotees have stopped the women from entering the sanctum. Despite these heavy protests, two women Kanaka Durga and BinduAmmini made history by entering into the temple on January 1st and later on the temple was shut down for purification. A massive protest erupted after the women entered the holy shrine in Sabarimala along with immense dislike uprising against the government in rule.When protests, political dramas, customs and rights strive towards achieving dominance the important question to be pondered upon is what does this verdict necessarily means? What is the sole purpose of the verdict?

Supreme court has very briefly explained that the custom of ban on women’s entry is a clear violation of constitutional rights. Also ban on women’s entry is not universal in the religion of Hinduism as women are allowed to enter into another temple. Further the restriction of women between the age of 10-50 and the exemption of people of other age group is again a question of equality. In addition to this the court has made the observation that the Ayyappa devotes are not as such a special religious denomination. The whole purpose of the verdict remains to protect the constitutional provisions of women and that of the state government to uphold the validity of the Supreme Court verdict. Customs and traditions are good enough in preserving heritage and culture. But it should not act as a means of deteriorating innovative ideas and changes in the society.

The societal norms and ideas must always be open to accommodate positive changes and only then economic and societal development can be achieved. The people who protest in name of religion and custom must remember that Untouchability was once practiced as a religious and societal custom. It took a great deal of effort and time to realize that it was an evil practice. The most depressing aspect of this issue is that a large number of womenfolk also protests against women entry solely because of their religious thinking lines. The thoughts and wisdom of the people must be enlightened enough to understand and accommodate religion as a unifying force than diverging force. Another immediate fact behind the issue is that, personally and ideologically no one is against the idea of women’s entry to Sabarimala. But since it has a religious link people and parties will always strive towards protecting their face for their own political representation and benefits. At least we must not forget the fact that Religion is the most devastating weapon in the hands of anti-socials after atomic, nuclear and bio-weapons and have a million more proliferation and destruction capacity that could damage everything at one stroke.

Picture Credits : hwnews.in

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