Lords Vs Lord – The Sabarimala Episode : Shubham Sharma

If one closely observes the social-political world, the most unbiased conclusion one could reach, would be that- it is full of contradictions! Contradictions which are laughable to many and revolutionary for a few. The Indian social-political world is no exception. The recent furor on the temple entry of women between the age group of ten to fifty has coincided with the government’s decision to end the moratorium on Bt Brinjal. The former represents a feudal-mediaeval practice which has unfortunately endured whereas the latter is representative of the pinnacle of reason, science and experimentation.

However, the most unfortunate take away of this social contradiction is that the former is not just weighing over the latter but far outstripping it in terms of an urgent public policy imperative to be debated at the level of civil society. This marks the failure of Indian politics at large and the political executive in particular.
In a recent judgment the Supreme Court bench ruled in favour of a PIL filed by the Indian Young Lawyers Association that all women, irrespective of age and physiological constitution should be allowed in the much revered Lord Ayyapa temple. On the face of it, the judgment would seem to appear like a back-dated cheque which should have been encashed much earlier. But things change frantically when one has to reckon with the fact that the Lord against whom the Lord’s have ruled is a celibate! The lord is silent on the decision but he has a vast number of followers, including women, who are anxiously driven to preserve his puritanical celibacy. The routes taken for this, range from constitutional remedies to outright threats of physical mutilation.
In this situation there are five points that need to be pointed out. Firstly, the ruling Left front government has welcomed the decision of the apex court while at the same time it has not hurried up to showcase its progressive credentials, notwithstanding the fact that the latter has become a rarity in Indian politics. Keeping in mind the sensitive nature of the issue and the lack of a parallel movement on ground supporting and endorsing the apex court’s decision, the Left had called for talks among the parties involved. Secondly, the parties involved have put up an unrelenting attitude by placing before the government their demand that they would come to the table only when the State government files a review petition against the decision. Thirdly, the main opposition party, Congress, has unceremoniously rescinded from its erstwhile stand and opposed the apex court decision. Its opposition has become even more substantial since its leaders are participating in nama-japa yatras and sharing dais with the BJP and other manifestations of reactionary right-wing forces. Fourthly, the BJP which has a history of politicking around temples, old temples and potential temples have found a happy hunting ground for itself. The state leadership at the behest of its national leadership has started a campaign against the decision. Its spokespersons on television proudly peddle the sad political fact of women not only opposing the decision but joining en masse in rallies braving police clampdown. Fifthly, the idea of gender equality far from being taken up on the terrain of political economy, reproductive rights and legislative representation is still revolving around temple entry and most unfortunately, taking a drubbing here! All this is happening because the political parties of the mainstream have buried themselves in the muck of opportunism with little room for breathing the air of social progress. The fact that the judiciary had to adjudicate on this shows the rot that has set in the Indian political psyche.
Temples, especially over the past three decade have proven to be of immense help to political parties and politicians. The centerpiece instance of temple-politics potential has been the mercurial rise of BJP around the Ram-janmabhoomi issue. After tasting success, it is loathe foregoing this time tested formula. All the guns and cannons on its part are out to safeguard a religious practice which is an outright manifestation of patriarchy at its reactionary best. Their argument that it is the women who are against the court’s decision is a bogus one as they fail to understand the fact that no progressive ideas or movements are always celebrated when they are mooted. The dissenting judge Justice Indu Malhotra also failed to understand this fact. In her dissenting opinion she argued that ‘issues with deep religious connotation should not be tinkered with to maintain a secular atmosphere in the country’. She further said that ‘it is not for courts to determine which religious practices should be struck down-except in cases of social evil like Sati’. Two points of criticism can be raised against her judgment. Firstly, Justice Malhotra tends to make secularism contingent upon the politics of religion. Secularism is a constitutional fact enshrined in the preamble, it is not political virtue which has to keep pace with the quantum of public religiosity in India. To do so would be succumbing to a loosely similar logic posited by the ruling party when it decided to deliberately omit the word ‘secular’ during the 2015 Republic Day parade on the pretext that these words were not part of the original preamble of the Constitution. Secondly, it is very difficult to determine which religious practice is ‘exploitative enough’ to be eradicated. To do so would not only be a cumbersome exercise of relativity but injustice to those who are at the receiving end of it. The practice of Sati looks horrific only in hindsight and in its most gruesome part-its performance. But if one turns to the glorification of sati-hood in large sections of Hindus even today which was aptly demonstrated in the Padmavat controversy, the promises of scientific temper and progress tend to appear murky.

The judgment on the entry of women in Sabarimala Temple is bound to shake the political ground in Kerala or perhaps the entire region. The issue is further going to pick up steam as temple-activist Trupti Desai has decided to visit the temple’s sanctum sanctorum once it opens for darshan from 18th October. Notwithstanding the future course of the movement, it will be imperative for the ruling Left to remain steadfast on its stand and show courage in times when temple hopping and temple entry tends to foreshadow real issues of the Republic.

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