By Tanessa Puri
“Duniya ke bazar mein sabse bada dhandha hai dharam.
Bhagwan se dara kar ch*t*ya banate hai public ka.”
(Religion is the biggest business in the world.
They use the fear of God to screw over people.)
– Ganesh Gaitonde in Netflix’ Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
Earlier this year, on June 27, I happened to cross Matoshree on my way to run an errand. For those who don’t know, Matoshree is the residence of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, and is in Kalanagar, Bandra. Geographically, Kalanagar forms the most intimate fringe with Bandra Kurla Complex, which is home to the main offices of all major banks, the National Stock Exchange and even the residences of bureaucrats from all kinds of Indian Civil Services. The dwellings and the dwellers in this side of Mumbai are symptomatic of the proximate relationship between the powerful and their prosperity.
Thackeray was celebrating his birthday that day. While I thought it was normal for a politician of such plentiful patronage to be lauded by the general public with cake and flowers, I saw much more. The road to Thackeray’s house was replete with disciples coughing up the narrow crossing outside Matoshree. I call them disciples and not people because I saw two astounding things between their reverence for Thackeray and mine for God. First, they were buying small triangular pieces of orange cloth with the Shiv Sena logo along with an orange thread. And second, amidst the cake and flowers they carried, there was a sense of joy, as if their saviour was born. Two kiosks were systematically parked near Thackeray’s house selling the triangular Shiv Sena symbol and the orange threads. On asking further, I realised that the women present will tie the orange thread to Thackeray’s wrist as a sign of brotherhood and protection. Also, the triangular orange pieces of cloth will be treated as an offering to accompany the huge bouquets of flowers and cakes. The ritual seemed strikingly similar to visiting a temple and worshipping God. The kiosks and the offerings could be juxtaposed with Vaishno Devi’s culture of buying offerings on one’s way to the temple, or even the tradition of buying wax models of one’s wish at Mount Mary Church, or buying offerings on one’s way to the Golden Temple.
I always thought that God is above sin. Until, I saw a God created by the Mumbaikars—the deification of the living man.
On reading the arguments of lawyer J. Sai Deepak, who is appearing on behalf of ‘People for Dharma’ in the Sabarimala dispute, I found a strange resonance of this tradition. Deepak argued that since the deity (Sabarimala) is a juristic person, the deity is entitled to the rights under Articles 21, 25(1) and 26 of the Constitution. Pursuant to these articles, the deity has the right to practice and preserve its dharma. If this is true, then the deity also has a right where he can practice his vow of remaining celibate.
Four issues emerge at this point:
Firstly, this case pitches the right of women to enter the temple against the right of men to enter the temple. In case women of a particular age group (10-50 years, in this case) are not allowed to enter the temple, it is violation of their rights—their right to equality under Article 14 and their right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex under Article 15 of the Constitution.
Secondly, Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution form testaments that weed out the proliferation of the most primitive and superstitious rituals practiced by ancient India. By uniting these Articles, the Indian Judiciary overweighed the freedom and liberty of Indians to be human beings before belonging to a particular class, religion or caste. In the landmark Supreme Court case of Minerva Mills v. Union of India, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud laid down a “Golden Triangle” comprising of Articles 14, 19 and 21. And so, these are of prime importance and breathe vitality into the concept of rule of law.
Therefore, when there is a contestation between Articles 14, 19 and 21 and Articles 25 and 26, the former are bound to win based on the ‘Golden Triangle’. It is thus common sense that women’s right to equality under Article 14 and their freedom to move into the temple under Article 19 cannot be restricted in the absence of any reasonable restriction.
Thirdly, how is the celibate status of a deity threatened if a woman capable of giving birth worships the deity? If men capable of indulging in sexual intercourse can worship the deity without it affecting the deity’s vow of celibacy, restricting “impure” woman capable of menstruation from entering the temple is a fallacy I fail to wrap my head around. Also, if the rule were so stringent and structured, then why does Sabarimala allow women who are above the age of 50 years? Menopause does not come for every woman at the age of 50. Moreover, this stringent rule must also then permit women suffering from premature menopause. Or perhaps the issue boils down to the fact the Ayyappas are not sure that their deity would be able to contain his sexuality within himself in the presence of women. But, having said that, being a deity, isn’t he free from all sin and temptation?
Fourthly, Section 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship (Authorisation of Entry Act) of 1965 allows places of public worship to be open to “all sections and all classes of Hindus,” while Section 4 allows the place of worship to make regulations with respect to “due performance of rites and ceremonies” with a proviso that these regulations should not discriminate against Hindus of “any class.” Pursuant to Section 4, the Kerala legislature framed some rules based on the concept of delegated legislation. The idea being that all rules framed in the delegate legislation should be within the mandate accorded to it by the parent Act. Rule 3(b) of the rules disallowed few people from offering worship. This rule included “women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship.”
If women aged between 10 and 50 years, capable of menstruation, fall under Hindus of “any class” as codified in the proviso to Section 4 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Worship Act, which is the parent Act, then, Rule 3(b) so framed by the Kerala legislature is ultra vires the parent Act. This is because these rules were to be framed with respect to “due performance of rites and ceremonies.” However, Rule 3(b) is a rule with respect to entry of persons into the temple. Therefore, the state legislature went beyond its mandate to frame such a rule.
Secondly, if women between the ages of 10 and 50 years fall under the category of “any class” of Hindus under the Section 4 Proviso of the parent Act, then the subordinate legislation by the Kerala legislature made a rule that is in conflict with the parent statute by disallowing “women at such time during which they are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship”. And so, the rule is invalid.
But in the absence of disputes over the deities of Sabarimala with their right to practice and preserve their dharma, there shall be a new Thackeray, somewhere, legitimising the deification of a living being on one hand and the supine existence of another on the other hand.
Tanessa Puri is a fourth-year law student. She can be found writing poems when not studying the law and begging for a job.