Hearing a ten year old case filed by an organisation called 'Young Lawyers Association', a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Deepak Mishra asked why women should not be allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
The court observed that according to the Indian constitution, women cannot be disallowed from entering any place.
The rules at the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala that is the abode of Lord Ayyappa has been questioned by many across the years, but the temple has staunchly held on to its traditions. In an interview to The News Minute, Prayar Gopalakrishnan, the head of the Travancore Devaswom Board responded to the Supreme Court’s observation and had some counter questions to ask.
“We are a secular country and are governed by a constitution, but I believe the government and court have a duty to protect religious beliefs,” Prayar Gopalakrishnan, said. He added that Ayyappan in Sabarimala is not just ‘Ayyappan’ but an ascetic celibate deity.
So since the temple is the embodiment of a “brahmachari” (celibate) Ayyappa the Constitution should ensure that a citizen’s religious belief is protected.
Asked whether women are not citizens too, Gopalakrishnan replied: “I have a question to ask those who question these customs. There is a festival in Thiruvananthapuram called Pongala in which only women can participate and not men. So why are people not questioning that?” he asks.
When it was pointed out that Pongala does not disallow men from entering the premises where the custom takes place, Gopalakrishnan said, “We have not stopped women from entering. Girls below 10 are allowed, thousands of women above 50 are come to Sabarimala every year. What is this insistence that females between 10 and 50 should be allowed inside Sabarimala? What kind of bhakti is this?”
He continued: “Anyone who says that females of those ages should be allowed in Sabarimala is not an Ayyappa bhakt. Sabarimala is not a tourist destination to allow such people.”
Asked if notions of purity and impurity weren’t outdated, he said: “Many may have progressed, but some of us still believe in it. In our houses females will not enter the kitchen during those days. They are also educated, but follow the traditions. These may be old beliefs, but beliefs are beliefs,” he replies.
He said that women who believed in Ayyappan would not be making such a demand. “God is there in all living things. There is no necessity that you need to see ‘God’ to pray to him. Why can’t people imagine Ayyappan in their thoughts and aspirations and pray to him? Why are women insisting to come to the temple that is in the midst of a jungle?”
Then then argued that women’s safety was also a concern. “When women cannot walk on the streets safely, why they should embark on a difficult pilgrimage and want to come to the temple?” he asked.
“The court and government should understand the consequences if they decide against the religious belief. This is not a warning, but they should know,” he says.
He was dismissive of the Young Lawyers’ Association which approached the Supreme Court and the LDF government that had initially told the court that it was not against women entering the temple. Calling them ‘rationalists and non-believers’, Gopalakrishnan, he said: “These are all materialistic people who believe there is no God and want everyone to enter. We will in no way agree to their demands.”