The Sabarimala pilgrimage has been rocked by unprecedented violence as Hindu organisations took to the streets on Wednesday to prevent women aged between 10 and 50 from visiting the shrine. More than the woman pilgrim, the wrath of protestors has fallen on journalists, particularly women, who have been stationed at various points on the pilgrims’ path to report on the journey of the faithful. While the moblisations that began immediately after the Supreme Court verdict against the legal ban on women entering the shrine were peaceful, the protests after the temple opened on Wednesday have brought Kerala to the edge. Egged on by leaders of Hindutva groups, the protestors now pose a serious threat to social peace. The public discourse on the issue has become toxic after leaders started to publicly threaten women who expressed the desire to travel to the shrine. Against this background, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s reference to Sabarimala in his Vijayadashami speech is significant, and disturbing.
Bhagwat has blamed the Sabarimala verdict for the current “unrest, turmoil and divisiveness in society” in Kerala. This, he argued, is because the Supreme Court did not consider “the nature and premise of the tradition that has been accepted by society and continuously followed for years together” when it held the legal cover extended to the traditional ban on women at Sabarimala as unconstitutional. He also claimed that “the version of heads of religious denominations and faith of crores of devotees was not taken into account” and “the plea by a large section of women, which follows this tradition, was not heard”. What is even more contentious than these claims is Bhagwat’s provocative suggestion that Hindu society is experiencing “repeated and brazen onslaughts on its symbols of faith” and that the court order on Sabarimala was one such instance. The RSS chief must remember that a constitution bench of the Supreme Court delivered its majority verdict after hearing extensive arguments against and in favour of Sabarimala’s contentious tradition by various Hindu groups that had impleaded in the case. The majority of the bench felt the ban failed the test of constitutional morality as it violated the principle of equal rights guaranteed in the Constitution to all citizens irrespective of gender. Surely, Bhagwat, who in recent times has unequivocally upheld the supremacy of the Constitution in national affairs, and other aggrieved parties, could move the Supreme Court to review its order.
Whatever be the Sangh’s differences with the judgment, it must respect due process and desist from any exhortation or action that can disrupt law and order. The Court is set to hear the clutch of review petitions filed before it on the Sabarimala judgment. The state government has also initiated a dialogue to resolve the issue amicably. Sections that are restive about the SC order must join these processes to make their case, instead of taking to the streets.