The Sabarimala Issue…
The Sabarimala temple is undoubtedly one of the most holy places for the Hindus in Kerala. The popularity of the deity Lord Ayyappa, however, goes beyond the state’s borders and the Ayyappa cult has a wide following in other South Indian states too. The pilgrimage to the hill shrine is unique in that it transcends divisions of caste, religion and gender. Every devotee who undertakes the arduous trek becomes an Ayyappa himself/herself the moment he or she wears the ‘mala’, (the ritualistic chain) around the neck.
For millions of Ayyappa devotees, Sabarimala is not just a matter of faith, but a part of their very lives, something they have grown together with in the last many centuries.
The shrine however has some rules restricting entry for women in the age group 10-50. This is on account of the unique feature of the deity at Sabarimala. Ayyappa here is consecrated as a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (eternal celebate).
Hearing a petition by some activists, who admittedly were not Ayyappa devotees and had no stake in the affairs of the temple, the Supreme Court recently struck down the restrictions saying it amounted to gender discrimination.
The decision of the five-judge Constitution can still be challenged by way of a review petition and if that fails, by a curative petition.
That being so, what is disturbing is the urgency being shown by the Pinarayi Vijayan-led CPM government to implement the verdict. Unlike judgments where the court seeks a compliance report, the Sabaraimala judgement has no such direction fixing any time limit for its implementation.
If the state wanted, it could easily have sought more time from the apex court. What we instead saw is the CM behaving like an obstinate kid and unleashing the brute force of the state on hapless devotees. Thousands baton-wielding cops, gun-toting commandoes, mobile jammers - the state deployed all these to try and annihilate a population that only wanted to save their faith through peaceful prayer protests.
What explains this madness? Well, there may be a method to it.
The Sabarimala issue was preceded by devastating floods, which destroyed life and property across Kerala. There was widespread criticism about the manner in which dams were opened at the last minute without putting in place proper precautionary measures. The manner in which the thousands of crores collected by way of flood relief are being spent has also come under the spotlight. During a hearing on the `salary challenge’ exercise floated by the state government to raise funds from government employees, Justice Arun Mishra of the Supreme Court even echoed this concern about the use of the money.
The Sabarimala issue has presented the CM with a golden opportunity to divert attention from the failures of his government.
A united protest… no one expected..
The state saw unprecedented protests in the aftermath of the Sabarimala verdict with lakhs of women coming out on the streets to defend their faith. The agitation was spontaneous and no one was leading the protestors. Such was the force of their conviction that political parties and outfits had to sit up and take note as the women marched the streets with chants of Ayyappa. The state has not seen such huge yet peaceful protests, that too by Hindus, in a long time. While people cutting across political ideologies joined the protests to defend their belief system, the Chief Minister in his Stalinist style decided to crush it. His actions however have had the unintended consequence of uniting the divided Hindus.
Why the Chief Minister failed?
It is famously said that ‘when faith and politics comes face to face, only faith will win’. Faith has driven human civilization for millions of years. The majority of Hindus in Kerala have always supported the CPI(M) despite Communists calling themselves atheists. But their loyalty notwithstanding, the CPM has only found opportunities to insult their faith. While the party has in the past asked explanations from its Hindu leaders for practicing their faith, it never sought for an such explanation from its leaders who went for Haj or visit Churches. While the party used its cadre to seize control over temples, it has not dared to touch even a single place of worship of other religions. While the Vijayan government is rushing to implement the Sabarimala verdict, it has strangely decided to go slow on executing another order of the same apex court in a dispute between two sects of Christians caught in a bitter power struggle.
Such blatant double standards has instilled a sense of betrayal in the Hindu community which now feels that the COM’s real aim is not to save it but to prepare the ground for its cultural annihilation. The developments over Sabarimala has awakened their pent up anger and may well be the final nail in the CPM coffin.
Pinarayi - the Hindu Unifier
If Hindus in Kerala have come together for the first time without any single leader to lead them, the credit for it should entirely go to the Chief Minister. His arrogance and the way his government mismanaged the Sabarimala issue has made them realise the need to stand together, lest their very existence becomes doubtful. Those they elected have failed them miserably and the Kerala Hindu may well be on the look out for a better option to govern them. Thanks to the Chief Minister.