By Elton Gomes
Thousands of devotees of Lord Ayyappa, including women and children, carried out a protest in Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram against the Supreme Court order allowing entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
As the temple complex opens on Wednesday for monthly rituals, the protesters have warned that they will not allow women inside the complex. If needed, they will also lie down and block the entry points to the temple.
The protesters, who have been camping at the Nilakkal base camp en route to the hill shrine, stopped women from proceeding further to Pamba.
What have the protesters said
Driven by the state unit of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the devotees were seen raising slogans, and they were holding pictures of Lord Ayyapa, placards, and the BJP’s party flags as part of their “Save Sabarimala” campaign.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the hill-shrine is said to have conducted a meeting Tuesday with the concerned stakeholders, including the Tantri (head priest) family, Pandalam royals, and Ayyappa Seva Sangam. The meeting will reportedly discuss the preparations ahead of the three-month-long annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrim season starting November 17.
Women devotees and journalists stated that they were being stopped at the base camp, which is in Nilakkal, from moving towards Sabarimala. The protesters also halted cars from heading towards the traditional trekking routes that lead to the shrine temple.
Some women also alleged that they were dragged out of their cars and restricted from going further, as per a News18 report.
How has Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan responded
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan asserted that his government will not allow anyone to take the law in their own hands. Vijayan said, “The government will ensure facilities to devotees to go to Sabarimala Temple and offer prayers. Government will not submit a review petition. We’ve said in court that we’ll implement the order,” News18 reported.
Devaswom Board to seek more time to implement Supreme Court order
As the Sabarimala temple complex opens for monthly rituals on Wednesday, a functionary of the Travancore Devaswom Board indicated that the temple body could ask the Supreme Court for more time so that its verdict allowing women entry can be implemented.
Citing unnamed sources, Hindustan Times reported that the temple board is likely to cite poor infrastructure to seek more time to implement the apex court’s order. The body could also refer to the recent floods, which have caused considerable damage to many facilities at the base camp Pambha and other areas.
All-Kerala Brahmins Association files review petition
The All-Kerala Brahmins Association, also known as Kerala Brahmana Sabha, has moved the Supreme Court seeking a review of the Sabarimala verdict. The Association is insistent that the restriction of women aged 10-50 years is not an issue of gender discrimination.
It has stated that the apex court’s judgement is erroneous since it has been made by focussing on individual dignity without considering similar restrictions placed on men in many other temples in the country.
The review petition emphasises that the majority judgment failed to appreciate the distinction between “pilgrims” and “devotees’. In addition, the petition highlights how different temples across India follow different practices such as different time of opening and closing, donation of hair and cannot, therefore, be questioned.
The Sabarimala verdict
In September, the Supreme Court struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women aged 10-50 years from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. In a 4-1 verdict, the constitution bench maintained that the temple rule violated women’s right to equality and right to worship. Justice Indu Malhotra was the lone dissenting judge.
“We have no hesitation in saying that such an exclusionary practice violates the right of women to visit and enter a temple to freely practice Hindu religion and to exhibit her devotion towards Lord Ayyappa. The denial of this right to women significantly denudes them of their right to worship,” the apex court said, the Economic Times reported.
The top court’s verdict received a mixed response. While some welcomed the verdict, others did not seem very happy with it. M.K. Stalin, Tamil Nadu’s opposition leader, praised the verdict as a milestone in the journey of social justice, gender equality, and freedom of women.
However, Arjun Sambath, leader of a right-wing group named Hindu Makkal Katchi, was shocked over the verdict. Sambath urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to introduce a bill in parliament to ensure status quo in the temple, thus allowing men alone.
Responding to the verdict, the Kerala government said that it will not be filing a review petition against the apex court’s order. Kerala CM Vijayan said that the government will make arrangements for women who wish to enter the temple.
“Since the SC pronounced the verdict, it is the existing law. The government will not file a review petition against it. From this pilgrimage season, arrangements will be made for the women who are willing to go to the temple,” Vijayan said, as per a report in the News Minute.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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