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Sabarimala order: 4 years later, Pinarayi government shows no stomach for a fight

Temple Affairs Minister says govt has no plan to facilitate entry of women of all ages, like it had done in 2018; senior CPM leader now backs “age-old practice”.

Ayyappa devotees wait at the Sabarimala temple, in Pathanamthitta, November 18, 2022. (PTI)

FOUR years after a Supreme Court order allowed entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government has receded further away from its original support for the decision.

On Thursday, hours after the BJP objected to a handbook issued by police with guidelines ahead of the two-month pilgrimage season, which talked of entry of all women in the temple, the LDF government withdrew it. The pilgrimage started on Wednesday.

Days ago, senior CPI(M) leader and former Temple Affairs minister G Sudhakaran said there was no need for any change in the age-old practice of not letting women of menstrual age into the temple. “This is something which we all accept and respect,’’ he said.

Incidentally, while he was the temple affairs minister from 2006 to 2011 in the V S Achuthanandan government, Sudhakaran had openly demanded that women of all ages should be allowed at Sabarimala.

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The Pinarayi government had originally thrown its weight behind the Supreme Court order of September 2018, taking on protesters and providing protection to women of menstrual age who wanted to visit the temple. The devotees believe that with Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala a celibate god, only young girls and old women should be allowed to visit him.

However, the government had come under increasing pressure from the protesters and the Hindu groups backed by the BJP. The Congress’s sweep of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state followed, and was seen as a rejection of the LDF stand.

In 2019, on the eve of the annual pilgrimage season, the Supreme Court had referred the matter to a seven-member Bench. While it had not ordered a stay on the 2018 order, this had taken heat off the Kerala government.

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Asked about the state government’s position on the issue now, senior CPI(M) leader and Temple Affairs Minister K Radhakrishnan said the government has no plan to facilitate entry of all women. “We will go by the court directive,” he said, adding they would also look into how the police handbook got cleared.

The BJP, which had led the protests in the wake of the Supreme Court order, said that the handbook showed the government again intended to use police to ensure entry of all women.

The pilgrimage season is expected to get huge crowds this year as it is the first after two years of Covid restrictions. Before that, the 2018 and 2019 season was held under the threat of violence following the Supreme Court order.

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The Supreme Court’s referral of the matter to a seven-member Bench followed several writ petitions.

The analysis of the 2019 Lok Sabha results had led the CPI(M) to conclude that its strident stand backing the Supreme Court had cost it the Hindu vote. Pinarayi had taken the lead on the issue, insisting that the party was obliged to implement the Court order, as well as to uphold its commitment towards renaissance values of the state and gender equality.

The party had even created a “women’s wall”, from one end of the state to another, to drive home the LDF stand as a protector of women’s rights.

First published on: 19-11-2022 at 10:47 IST
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