By Prarthana Mitra
As Kerala’s Sabarimala Temple opened its gates to female devotees of the Ayappa cult for the first time in history, a frenzied mob guarded its “sanctity” by turning buses and cars carrying them away. Emboldened by the Travancore Devasom Board’s firm stance against the SC verdict lifting the ban on women’s entry, ardent followers of the “eternally celibate” deity defended its premises against the top court’s orders.
Here’s what led to this
After losing the appeal on the verdict, several religious organisations that represented the board’s interests took it upon themselves to uphold the century old-norm that has prevent women between the menstruating ages of 10 and 50 from entering the temple.
Protesters, joined by thousands of women, had taken to the streets earlier this month, to object to the SC verdict which forbids the temple board to discriminate on the basis of physiological phenomena and ruled that women have the fundamental right to pray that is not contingent upon esoteric religious practices. “Subversion of women on biological factors cannot be given legitimacy,” the court said. “Certain dogmas have resulted in incongruity between doctrine and practice.”
What happened when women went to pray
This culminated in the massive roadshow outside Sabarimala on Wednesday, put up by various outfits like Sangh Parivar, occupying the streets at Nilakkal, the entry point to the shrine, to stop women between the ages of 10 and 50 from proceeding further. Groups of devotees began early Wednesday, to turn journalists and female pilgrims away; they even began to flag and search vehicles rampantly to see if any of them ferried women passengers. Two women who began the 7 km trek to the hilltop shrine were forced to retrace their steps.
Scroll reported a group of four women searching a bus entering Pamba, saying, “We have got information that a woman is trying to sneak into Sabarimala by this bus. Do not hide, we will not allow any women [to] go to Sabarimala.” At another checkpoint, Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samithi was staging a similar crusade by chanting Ayappa’s incantations, while the temple board prepared to file a review petition on October 19, which made this D-Day resistance even more crucial.
Although Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had announced stern action against the agitators, the state police were largely inactive and uncooperative in diffusing the tension, and failed to ensure safe passage to the temple for women who were making their way to create history. The verdict has, after all, triggered similar petitions from women of other religious denominations, who are barred from their respective places of worship. The fallout of such blatant dismissal of apex court’s verdict still remains to be seen.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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