The Supreme Court order of September 28 that removed the restriction on women of a certain age group from entering the Sabarimala shrine was a radical step that upset sections of the faithful. The past few days have seen various Hindu outfits undertaking mobilisations of devotees in Kerala against the court order. These groups have portrayed the judgment as being against the Hindu faith and traditions. The disquiet among the conservative sections of the religious establishment is understandable — the order upturned what the latter believed was an ancient, unassailable tradition. Some of the organisations, including the influential Nair Service Society, have since filed review petitions in the court. Since the matter was settled in the Supreme Court, it is from the court that they must also seek redress. What is disturbing, however, is the stance of the BJP and the Congress, which have tacitly backed the street mobilisations against the court verdict.
The Sabarimala case was decided 4:1 by a Constitution bench, which held that the ban on women pilgrims failed the test of constitutional morality. The minority judgment flagged some serious issues that have a bearing on the secular fabric of the nation and the autonomy of religious groups to practise faith as they wish. The Kerala government has submitted an affidavit in the court that it would implement the order and it is duty-bound to stay the course. Political parties like the Congress and BJP, too, ought to respect the Supreme Court verdict, while raising whatever disagreements they have with it in the appropriate fora. The mass action attempted by religiously-oriented groups verges on deepening polarisation, and fanning fears that the court has discriminated against the Hindus.
In fact, the state government had called various stake-holders associated with the shrine for talks on how to implement the court order. Considering the delicacy of the issue, the Congress and BJP should have supported the effort. With the seasonal pilgrimage to the forest shrine set to start soon, a plan to manage the pilgrim traffic needs to be charted immediately. Communitarian groups must also recognise that theological disagreements with the judgment should not come in the way of addressing the practical needs of the thousands of pilgrims who visit the shrine and the stress on infrastructure as more women become part of the crowd.