In the wake of protests across Kerala against the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, a top RSS leader on Wednesday stated that “sentiments of devotees cannot be ignored while considering the judgment”, and advised stakeholders to explore the possibility of a review petition.
The RSS had earlier officially welcomed the court’s verdict.
The Sangh leader also criticised the CPI(M)-led government in Kerala for implementing the top court’s order without taking “sentiments of the devotees” into consideration.
In a statement, RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi, number two in the organisation, said, “In the case of Sabarimala Devasthanam it is an issue of a local temple tradition and faith to which sentiments of millions of devotees, including women, are attached. These sentiments of devotees cannot be ignored while considering the judgment.”
Joshi’s statement hinted at a potential political battle in Kerala, where the RSS as an organisation has been robust and active, but the BJP has failed to make much political gains.
“Unfortunately, the Kerala government has taken steps to implement the judgment with immediate effect without taking sentiments of the devotees into consideration. There is an obvious reaction (to this) by devotees, especially women, who are protesting against the forceful breaking of the tradition,” he stated.
Talking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Wednesday, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan made it clear that the state government will not file a review petition and will implement the Supreme Court verdict. He said the state will ensure necessary arrangements for allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine, located in the jungles of the Western Ghats.
Joshi, who in 2016 had spoken in favour of women’s entry into Sabarimala, stated, “While the Supreme Court judgment should be respected, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh calls upon all stakeholders, including spiritual and community leaders, to come together to analyse and address the issue availing judicial options also. They must convey their concerns on their right to worship in a manner which best suits their faith and devotion to the authorities in a peaceful manner.”
In an interview with a Malayalam channel in 2016, Joshi had said, “Women must be admitted wherever men are admitted. This is the general stand adopted by RSS. If one thinks that a custom is wrong, it should be abandoned. The RSS does not hold the opinion that a custom should be followed just because it has just because it has been practised for hundreds of years.”
Joshi’s statement on Wednesday assumes significance as there seems to be different views even among RSS and BJP leaders on the issue. A section led by former All-India Boudhik pramukh Ranga Hari is of the view that women should be allowed entry into Sabarimala. But Kerala BJP president P S Sreedharan Pillai and state RSS chief P Gopalankutty Master both said that the judgment should not be implemented in a hurry.
“Sabarimala should not be converted into a ground of ideological struggle. The (state) government should try to create consensus,” Pillai said. Master said people should not feel that a reform is being foisted upon them, and “it should be implemented only in due course”.
Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala has also stated that it should not be forgotten that all places of worships in the country should function according to certain traditions and rituals. A section of Congress leadership in the state has suggested that there could be a review petition.
The issue also assumes significance since all major political parties in Kerala are trying to woo votes of Hindu community members. While the Congress-led UDF has dominance over the minority Muslim and Christian community votes — the communities constitute more than 45 per cent of the state’s population – the CPI(M)-led LDF has an upper hand on voters from the Hindu community.
Among Hindus, the BJP has been wooing the Nair and Eazhava communities to give a formidable alternative in the state’s bipolar coalition politics. The BJP has one MLA in the 140-member Kerala Assembly.
State BJP leaders assume that a significant section of Hindus, including women, feel that the Supreme Court’s judgment has hurt their religious sentiments in what is a matter of faith , and by supporting those who protest against the verdict the party hopes to widen its political influence in the state.
In a 4-1 verdict last week, the apex court had ended the ban on entry of women of menstruating age into Sabarimala shrine. The court observed that centuries-old customs at the shrine is not an essential religious practice and “the attribute of devotion to divinity cannot be subjected to the rigidity and stereotypes of gender”.