Updated: September 28, 2018 10:05:35 pm
The subject of whether women of all ages should be allowed entry into the centuries-old Sabarimala temple in Kerala has always been a tricky tightrope for the state’s mainstream political parties. Over the course of a long trial, first in the Kerala High Court and then later in the Supreme Court, successive UDF and LDF governments have shown tiring reluctance to spell out their stand on the matter.
On one side lay the danger of upsetting lakhs of Hindu devotees, not just from Kerala but also from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka who make the rigorous trip to climb the hill at Sabarimala and pay obeisance to Lord Ayyappa. On the other side, the discomfort from within party ranks in appearing as puritanical and conservative especially in this 21st century era was also intense.
While the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), an autonomous body that manages the shrine at Sabarimala and many other places of Hindu worship, has stuck sharply to its contention that ‘ancient’ traditions and rituals must not be sidestepped to allow entry of menstruating women, state governments led by the CPM and the Congress have dithered on their stand, often changing affidavits during the course of trial.
On Friday, all three leaders of the state’s major parties the CPM, the Congress and the BJP reacted to the top court verdict with carefully-crafted statements.
CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, in a Facebook post, welcomed the ruling, calling it a significant step towards ensuring that women are not discriminated against in every field in the society. He claimed that the verdict is in consonance with the stand of the previous LDF government in the top court. The top CPM leader in the state also said the TDB must take appropriate steps to implement the SC order.
“As the state secretary, when I made it clear that the CPM was in favour of removing the ban on entry of women of a certain age group at the Sabarimala temple, there were opposing voices from many corners. Many asked whether Communist leaders would interfere in issues concerning Christian and Muslim women,” he said in the FB post, originally in Malayalam. He went on to cite instances such as the party’s intervention in opposing a bill that would have weakened inheritance for Christian women and also the practice of instant triple talaq in Islam.
“Looking at menstruation as a weakness must be abandoned. Not a single opportunity must be denied to a woman in the name of menstruation. The objective is to pave the way to make them stronger. We should never forget that we are a progressive society,” the CPM leader added, in reflection of the SC order.
At the same time, Ramesh Chennithala, Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, struck a middle ground stating that while the top court’s verdict was welcoming, traditions at religious places of worship must not be disturbed. He also admitted that the previous Congress administration voiced in favour of the continuation of the ban on entry of menstruating women.
“Sabarimala has never banned entry of women. On the basis of certain traditions and rituals, there were certain restrictions. With this verdict, those circumstances have changed. We have to seriously reflect on the fact that many of the places of worship in our country have their own rituals and traditions. There’s no doubt that the verdict of the Supreme Court must be welcomed. But I have only spoken about an aspect of it,” he told reporters.
“The stand taken by the UDF government was different. It’s true that it argued in favour of traditions at the temple. Even under the LDF government, the stand of the Devaswom Board was the same,” he said, adding that he would make a detailed statement after reading the entire judgment.
BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai, in his comments to reporters, pleaded with the Devaswom Board to ensure that the row does not escalate into violence from here on. He also stated that the BJP will not allow any attempts by an administration, that ‘does not believe in God’, to take advantage of the situation.
“The state government and the Devaswom board must aim to build a consensus, and not escalate the issue into a conflict. An administration, that does not believe in God, must not attempt to take advantage of the situation. On one side are the beliefs of crores of people. On the other side is the fight for equal rights. The two sides must be brought together. Without compromising on the importance of Sabarimala, there must be an atmosphere of consensus. Social equilibrium must be maintained,” he said.
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