“It’s like driving your car. If you drive too fast on the highway, you will topple, so you better maintain your speed. Life is similar to that, and that’s the way you have to control your head.”
– A R Rahman
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interview said that the difference between the move to end the so-called triple talaq system of divorce among Muslims and the opposition to women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala was based on gender equality in the case of the first and tradition in the case of the latter. Two women gained access to the shrine, ending a ban on women and in effect carrying out the Supreme Court’s December order on entry for all into the shrine. The move, while perfectly legal, added fuel to the heated debate across the nation on the right to pray and equality of women, at a time when women in several parts of the country are fighting to end gender discrimination. In their 40s, which falls in the menstrual group, the women trekked to the shrine hill dressed as pilgrims. The duo –‘Yuvatis’ Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini — sneaked into Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in the wee hours of January 2, which has ignited a firestorm in the southern state, with widespread protests and subsequent police action. A man who was injured during clashes in Kerala after the entry of two women into Sabarimala temple on Wednesday died late the same night. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the “breach.” His statement comes within 24 hours of the LDF-sponsored ‘Women’s Wall.’
As news of the women’s entry travelled far and wide, the shrine was controversially shut down for an hour and a half for “purification” Kerala minister EP Jayarajan called it contempt of court, saying: “untouchability is against the law.” Several women have tried to enter the temple since Supreme Court’s Sabarimala verdict but were forced to return by protesters. The two who entered the shrine on Wednesday are reportedly both working-class women and pro-Left activists. The duo, who had supposedly angered the Lord by breaking the tradition, were escorted to the temple by the administration in total secrecy at around dawn. Touted as a historic judgement, the Sabarimala verdict on September 28, last year, paved the way for what has been a longstanding demand — entry of women of all ages into the holy shrine of Sabarimala. In a land governed by the rule of law, upholding the SC’s judgement is absolute. What remains to be seen, now, is how this ‘purification’ of the shrine restores faith and resummons the strong opposition that has been resisting the landmark SC order.
The entry of the two women put the local units of the BJP and the Congress, which are backed by a large section of devotees, on the back foot. These two parties, who support the ban on women, are now organising demonstrations in support of their stand across Kerala. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) after welcoming the SC verdict made an about-turn— perhaps, sensing that the controversy would help the BJP make gains among Hindu voters in this year’s Lok Sabha election. The Congress party, which is eyeing the Hindu votes, has thrown in its weight with the Ayyappa devotees opposing the verdict. In this light, and in the run-up to the general elections in April-May, the politicised approach to this complicated issue will continue, fuelling chaos in this southern state.