While the government is flayed for its double stand on the issue, is the delay without any reasons?

Ensuring peace at Sabarimala Why Kerala govt is contradicting itself on womens entry
news Sabarimala Thursday, December 20, 2018 - 14:43

While Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been clear in his firm public support for implementing the Supreme Court verdict in the Sabarimala temple women’s entry case, and for allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine, the state police have simultaneously been sending back the women who have come forward to offer prayers at temple. This contradiction has caused outrage among those who want to see the SC’s verdict, which is scheduled to be reviewed on January 22, implemented during the ongoing Mandalam-Makaravilaku season itself. 

Activist and model Rehana Fathima, who attempted to enter the shrine on October 19, and was arrested on November 27 for hurting religious sentiments due to a Sabarimala-related photo she had uploaded, flayed the contradiction between the Chief Minister’s stated intentions and the actions taken by the Kerala police force. It was, after all, soon after her abortive attempt to enter the temple that the Government announced, through Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran, that the police would not protect women “activists” who were climbing the hill for their own activism-related purposes, while no such ban on male activists at Sabarimala exists. After she was released on bail on December 14, Rehana lashed out at the government for deliberately defeating women’s attempt to enter the shrine. 

Neither the government nor its supporters have been able to provide clear explanations or reasons for the discrepancy between the government’s stated intentions and their actions through the police stated at Sabarimala. But a critical and comprehensive look into the deliberate obstacles the Kerala government seems to be putting before women attempting to enter the shrine could reveal more complex political, historical and social reasons behind it. 

Teacher and orator Sunil P Ilayidom believes that the government must be negotiating to evolve a favourable social condition for peaceful women’s entry to Sabarimala. He cites the transformation in the social atmosphere around the issue—from a highly turbulent situation to a more or less peaceful one at the current time—as a sign of the success of that attempt.

"When we began debating on it, even those who favoured women's entry were afraid of the atmosphere prevailing then, for it seemed like it could lead to an even worse situation, but it's slowly changing now. The government might be fearing a social clash and a political setback, and is hence moving gradually towards successfully taking a woman into the temple, although it can’t openly declare that it is doing so. The government is slowly turning the social and political condition in favour of women’s entry. With the planned Women's Wall, the government is making another move to make the condition favourable. It is taking forward an alternate course of debate, which does have it’s pitfalls, but this is only natural, " Sunil P Ilayidom says.

He elaborates upon this crucial point, which he has also referenced in all his public speeches on the issue recently. He points out history isn’t written in a day, but is a longer, more complicated process, and that people forget the theoretical and practical nuances of historical events. "Not even a single situation in history happened with theoretical perfection, or without any ideological contradictions. People, however, forget the nuances of the events and how exactly they played out. In hindsight, they remember them as easy transformations only, and argue for a hurried transformation in every case,” he says.  

In discussing the ongoing situation at Sabarimala temple, many comparisons have been made to the amount of time people of non-dominant castes took to enter temples, and the internal resistance they showed to doing so, even after the historical Temple Entry Proclamation in 1936. In fact, the Temple Entry Proclamation wasn't even the first step towards this goal: the Vaikom Satyagraha, demanding access for people of all sections to the roads leading to the Shiva temple in Vaikom, took place in 1924. And yet, over twelve years later after this historic struggle, people from non-dominant castes showed reluctance to enter temples. 

To illustrate his point that historical change often takes complex routes, and certainly takes time, Ilayidom explains, “The writer Cherukad has written that after the Temple Entry Proclamation, when a temple was opened for non-dominant caste people, they were afraid to enter. Finally a person was actually carried into the temple by force, like a calf.”

“The bigger crux of the discussion on Sabarimala,” he continues, “is that it has made people talk out loud about menstruation in public. The Arppo Arthavam (Hail Menstruation) campaign [which seeks to banish taboos and negative perceptions around menstruation] and the villuvandi (bullock cart) rally by Dalit women in Kerala to show their support for Sabarimala temple women’s entry are all happening, and they have all strengthened the public discourse on gender and social equality. The hidden casteism and Brahminical patriarchy surrounding the ban on women’s entry to Sabarimala have been exposed to broad light. It took decades for principles of the constitution to be brought into the public consciousness for public discussion. [Given that these progressive movements and rallies are already happening], this has already not been the case with Sabarimala.”

However, there are others who don't agree with this perspective. Social activist Geedha believes that the government has no policy at all on the Sabarimala issue and it has been playing a double game. "The CPI (M) and RSS have been conniving on this. Kerala's Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran has a right wing heart and he desires to hand over everything to Brahmins," Geedha says. "There would not have been any clash or tension if a woman had been allowed on the first day itself, it's the government which complicated the entire issue. Now it's reached a stage where even Pinarayi Vijayan can't do anything," she says.

Another political critic suggests that the government may be biding its time in this issue, in order to play the political long game by uniting diverse political groups. ”Politically it seems that the government is waiting for right wing organisations to expose themselves, and the political agenda behind their agitations. The BJP'S protest now fails to attract the attention it had in the initial days, and its resistance is getting weak. The Left government, by uniting people of the various community organisations through the Women's Wall, aims to finally defeat the RSS-BJP agenda. They may slowly implement the verdict, perhaps after the court considers the review petitions on January 22, or after analysing the impact of the Women’s Wall, thereby gaining the final victory,” a political critic says.

The Women’s Wall is a human chain to be formed from the northern part of the state to the southern part to gather support for the government’s stand on the entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala.

Yet another view on the government’s contradictory stance is that the its moves could be based on inputs from the Intelligence Wing, which reported that allowing women into the temple could lead to tension or a clash in and around the temple premises,considering the charged communal atmosphere of the initial days of the protest. 

"There's a possibility for such a clash. When a young crowd with a newly allowed freedom walk in amongst people who regularly visit the temple, it could lead to a clash. Considering the geography of the temple, which is located inside hilly forest region, the situation may not be easy to handle,” a highly placed police officer told TNM.

"Since it is the peak pilgrim season—in fact the most important season of the year—and there is great attention on the SC verdict, it is likely that the government will not hastily implement it. There is a strong perception that the Supreme Court may revoke the order, considering the numerous review petitions, although among legal circles, the support for the argument put forward in the review petitions is weak. But if the court did revoke its verdict, and reinforce the ban on women entering the temple, the government will be ruthlessly attacked for its “hasty” implementation of the SC verdict,” he adds. 

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