By Prarthana Mitra
A verdict that could have subverted centuries of gendered oppression and discrimination turned the judiciary system into a futile device, as Sabarimala Temple shut its doors at 10 pm on Monday, after a week of incessant mob protests against the SC order.
The verdict forbade 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. Taking objection to this overhaul, the temple board and several religious outfits took to the streets, denying women their rightful entry to the sanctum sanctorum, waiting it out until the pilgrimage season come to an end.
Here’s what happened
The Kerala temple was directed to lift the ban on female devotees of resident deity Lord Ayappa, starting Thursday. But religious fanatics have very little regard for the law, even if it is coming from the top court of the land.
On Thursday, as the gates to Sabarimala opened reluctantly, the self-appointed guardians of the shrine took to the streets to intimidate women of menstruating age on their way to offer their prayers for the first time in history. Throughout the course of the week, law and enforcement failed the handful of women who decided to test the waters and make the trek from Nilakklal to the hilltop shrine.
Not a single female devotee or journalist has made it past the fiery mob so far, members of which resorted to flagging and blocking cars suspected to ferry women.
What should have been a momentous occasion for women’s right to pray soon became historic for all the wrong reasons, as the temple high priest threatened to shut the doors of its inner sanctum if any woman between the age of 10-50 entered the temple. Emboldened by this and undeterred by the arrests made on Thursday, the mob turned more violent in the subsequent days, until the women were forced to return to safety despite being accompanied by policemen. Activist Rehana Fathima who made an attempt to enter Sabarimala temple with journalist Kavitha Jakkal were forced to return after the priest of the temple refused to open the temple for them. Activist Trupti Desai was detained by police, earlier this morning, reported ANI. Journalist Priyamvada Rana wrote about her experience making the futile climb, and how she was heckled throughout the way.
Where do we go from here?
Denying women who have a legal right to enter the temple, amounts to a violation of the constitutional fundamental right to practice your faith. Rahul Eashwar, one of the arrested on Thursday, was released on bail in the wee hours of Monday. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was conveniently away on diplomatic business for the most part of the week. “On the one side there is the apex court directive and on the other side is those opposing it, especially the BJP/RSS, and the state government was in between these two,” said local MLA Kadakampally Surendran.
Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board filed a review petition against the verdict on October 19. Considering the events that unfolded over the week, the court may have a tougher time implementing the law when the temple reopens for its annual two-month-long pilgrimage season on November 17.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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