The Kerala government's Sabarimala conundrum

The temple will open on Friday and will be open for the next two months for the public.
The Kerala government's Sabarimala conundrum
The Kerala government's Sabarimala conundrum
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The all-party meet called by the Pinarayi-led government in Kerala on Thursday to take a call on how best to deal with the burgeoning Sabarimala crisis ended with both the Opposition and the BJP staging a walkout.

State Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was adamant that the LDF government has no option but to implement the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that paved the way for women of all ages to worship at the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. Significantly, the state Law Minister AK Balan who reportedly wanted the government to go in for a compromise was not invited to the meet.

On November 13, the Apex Court refused to stay its earlier verdict by a five-judge Constitution bench, while also agreeing to hear all the 49 review petitions and the three writ petitions in this regard in open court on January 22.

While the Congress and the BJP wanted the state government to ‘freeze’ the order, the Pandalam erstwhile royal family chose to play the ostrich and view it as a defacto stay.

Since the September verdict, thousands of  Ayyappa devotees have taken to the streets in Kerala to ensure that Ayyappa -the Sabarimala deity- retains his celibacy.

The ever ‘floccinaucinihilipilificatious’ MP Shashi Tharoor had observed in a recent opinion piece that he had penned that “abstract notions of constitutional principle” ought to “pass the test of societal acceptance”. Many from the Sangh Parivar now' have the coveted cerebral approval to indulge in hooliganism in the name of faith. Rahul Eeswar -the self proclaimed defender of the Hindu faith- could not have asked for more.

BJP-nominated Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi too chipped in with a one-of-a-kind solution of building an Ayyappa temple exclusively for women devotees. 

Large numbers did turn up at the Central Stadium in the state capital the other day to declare their faith in the supremacy of the Indian Constitution under the banner of ‘We the People’. But the civilized scenario was almost pale in comparison to the mob frenzy seen at the hill shrine in the past couple of weeks.

It was the Delhi-based Indian Young Lawyers’ Association that filed the original writ petition before the Supreme Court to allow women of all ages to worship at the famed hill shrine. What irked the devotees most was that an organisation that had absolutely no locus standi in the matter had dared to do the same.

Meanwhile the indigenous Mala Araya tribes too plan to challenge the Thazhamon Madom family of Brahmin priests -otherwise known as the Thantri family- whom they believe was brought in by the Pandalam royals who allegedly usurped their right to conduct the rituals in the 19th century.

The two-month long Mandala Makaravillakku is all set to begin on Nov 17 and end on January 14 with only a two-day break in between from December 28-29. Reports say that over 800 women have already registered online for darshan. Social activist Trupti Desai and a few other members of the Bhoomatha brigade have declared their intention to visit the shrine on November 17. 

The state police would reportedly employ around 25,000 police personnel including those borrowed from the neighbouring states and the central forces. Around 3,700 people have been arrested till date and 546 cases registered against the protestors.

The Kerala High Court has also approved the state police decision to require all vehicles visiting the shrine to have passes, without which these would not be allowed to park especially at the Nilakkal base camp. Only state-run buses would be allowed to proceed to Pampa. All pilgrims would have to buy tickets online with the return tickets valid only for 48 hours so as to ensure none stay back to make trouble.

Identity cards too have been made compulsory for all those employed at the shops and eateries in the vicinity. Rumours that the police would make use of helicopters to ferry women pilgrims to the temple were quashed in time.

The court has also made it clear that the state government had no right to interfere in the day-to-day affairs of the temple but should instead focus on maintaining law and order to ensure all visiting pilgrims have a hassle-free experience. The court had earlier flayed the government for the hardships faced by the pilgrims on the previous two occasions the shrine had opened its doors to them.

The saffron party not surprisingly views the whole fiasco being played out in the backdrop of the approaching general elections as a ‘golden opportunity’ to make its presence finally felt in the legislative corridors of the state. This was more or less vociferously endorsed by the state party president Sreedharan Pillai who exhorted Yuva Morcha activists at a meeting in Kozhikode to use it to their advantage. The Kasaba police station registered a case against him in this regard. 

Pillai had earlier boasted that it was he who had advised the head priest Kanderaru Rajevaru to consider shutting down the inner sanctum if any woman dared to defile its precincts, and that such an action would not be termed as contempt of court owing to the overwhelming backing of all devotees. It is a different matter that he had to eat his own words before long when the head priest categorically denied ever having such a telephonic conversation.

RSS leader Valsan Thillenkery found himself in the eye of a storm when a video showing him standing without his ‘irimudkettu’ on the ‘pathinettaam padi’ (18 steps) and with his back to the inner sanctum went viral on social media. Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) member KP Shankar Das too found himself in a similar predicament, much in keeping with the Board’s oscillating stance between standing by the Apex Court verdict and defending the age-old traditions followed at Sabarimala.

Only the thantri and members of the royal family are allowed to climb the 18 steps without the irumudikettu (bundle placed symbolically on the head). The BJP however is not unduly worried as it hopes to regain any lost ground with its ‘rath yatra’ undertaken to protect Sabarimala from the atheistic onslaught.

The next two months will probably decide whether the Sabarimala conundrum will lead  Kerala into a state of unrest.

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