By Prarthana Mitra
Supreme Court has set the date for hearing 49 review petitions and all pending applications against its Sabarimala verdict on January 22, 2019, further directing that women of all age groups must be allowed to enter the temple until then. Furthermore, the five-judge bench, headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Rohinton Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, refused to grant a stay order on its September 28 verdict.
The struggle for female devotees to enter Sabarimala continues
This comes a day after Kerala police were reportedly contemplating the use of helicopters to take women devotees to the temple from Thiruvananthapuram or Kochi to prevent right-wing mobs from impeding their journey. This has happened twice over the last 21 days, despite heavy security and deployment of police personnel in the temple town, resulting in immense political and religious animosity across the state.
The SC decision comes four days ahead of the temple opening for a two-month-long mandalam-makaravilakku pilgrimage season on November 17. According to reports, around 550 women belonging to the controversial age group have signed up for darshan through the online booking facility of the Kerala Police.
What happened when the temple opened for the first time after the verdict?
During the holy week of October 17-22, members of the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, supported by 50 other Hindu outfits, heckled and abused 15 women including journalists who attempted to enter the temple, and even attacked journalists.
Arguing that the Supreme Court verdict disregarded the temple’s rules and in turn violated age-old customs dedicated to resident deity Lord Ayappa, the eternal celibate, the protestors flagged down cars carrying women and forced them to turn back. Law enforcement forces failed the women who made it past the mob to undertake the trek from Nilakklal to the hilltop shrine.
When doors to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple reopened last week for a two-day ritual, the state government imposed Section 144 in the neighbouring districts to implement the controversial verdict, with the backing of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The decision was criticised by opposition parties who claimed that this could interfere with the sanctity of the shrine. However, mobs continued to stage protests at various stops of the route, again preventing the handful of women who were seen at the starting point.
The police have, so far, arrested 3,505 protestors for intimidating and attacking women who legally arrived at the shrine to offer their prayers and make history. Shortly afterwards, BJP chief Amit Shah threw in unbounded support for the protestors who upheld the shrine’s age-old traditions with intimidation and a flagrant obstruction of justice. A review petition was filed by the Travancore Devaswom board, the hearing for which is pending.
However, the fact remains. No woman of childbearing age has made it past the temple gates since the Supreme Court verdict deemed any gender-based ban on entry unconstitutional in September.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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