“We are not Nairs, not Ezhavas, not Pulayas, but we have Hindu Blood,” reads a post on Facebook, apparently to show that Hindu communities are united in opposing the Sabarimala verdict. However, a hierarchy exists in that unity - first comes the Nairs, then the Ezhavas and in the end, Pulayas, a Dalit community.
The society in Kerala is divided on the Supreme Court ruling lifting the ban on the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 into Sabarimala temple. A section of Hindu devotees is against the verdict, fearing it would violate the existing traditions of the temple. But many communities have objected to the attempt to make it look as if the protests reflect the emotion of the Hindu community as a whole.
A couple of days ago, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan clarified the stand of the government on the issue. He stated that the protests could paint a false image that the government is against the devotees.
The convener of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government A Vijayaraghavan later explained, “A second Liberation Struggle will not be possible, but the Congress joining hands with the BJP against the judgment is precarious.” Liberation Struggle -the political agitation between 1958 and 1959 had resulted in the termination of the Communist, EMS Namboodiripad government.
But are all Hindu communities against women entering the shrine? Well, Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam (SNDP) General Secretary Vellappally Natesan came out with a stand supporting the government.
SNDP is the largest organisation representing the Ezhava community, one among the prominent castes after the Nairs in Kerala. Ezhavas being a considerable majority of the Hindu population, Vellappally’s stand in the issue assumes significance.
Vellappally said, “Those who came out for the protest say that they represent the entire Hindu community. But how can they claim that when the Ezhavas, which constitute around 28% of the Hindus in Kerala, are not part of the protests, neither are Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”
Though that could be viewed as born out of his rift with the BJP for not giving due prominence to his Bharath Dharma Jana Sena in the NDA coalition, the open stand exposed one rooted thinking about Kerala’s caste system. “The attitude that the lower caste should take orders from the upper caste is not appropriate," he said.
Later, however, Vellappally diluted his stand saying that the SNDP Yogam won't oppose members of the Ezhava community joining the protest.
The government’s move also received backing from Punnala Sreekumar, General Secretary of Kerala Pulayar Mahasabha (KPMS). The Pulaya community had also been subjected to severe oppression by the dominant classes in society in the past and casteist ostracisation towards them still exists, at least in the minds of many.
“The verdict is the continuation of the reformation movements began by Sree Narayana Guru. Our society failed to take forward the ideological fight of Sree Narayana Guru and hence a court judgment was needed for that,” he said.
“It is a contradiction that those who are protesting now had the opportunity to present their arguments effectively during the trial of the case. They are trying to protect the upper caste domination, which is losing its last frontier. No social change has happened without hurting the sentiments of the conservative people,” he said, calling the verdict historic. It should be noted that KPMS is a part of BJP-led NDA in the state.
‘Thantri family fears they will lose dominance’
TNM also spoke to Dalit activist Sunny M Kapikad and Geethanandan, leader of prominent Dalit organisation Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha.
According to Sunny, those who believe in the constitutional morality are committed to following the Supreme Court’s judgment, which is based on the principle of equality of the Indian constitution.
The court pronounces judgments not based on the number of people but based on justice, that should be viewed from the constitutional morality perspective.
Women should go to Sabarimala and the protest against it is based on outdated ideologies, he says.
“It is a national agenda of the ‘sangh parivar’ to coordinate all the castes and presenting them under the banner of Hindus. Who are Thantris (priests) in a democratic system? The basic problem lies in the fear that Sabarimala would become a public space with the verdict, and by this, the Thantri family will lose dominance. In fact, the dominant caste people are afraid that once the judgment is executed, people from lower castes, who have learned to perform pujas, would be appointed as priests in temples. Uniting the upper caste Hindus with the Christians, like the Syrian Christians, in the issue was a result of that fear. The RSS has begun redefining and absorbing all the weaker sections under one category – Hindus,” he explains.
He points out that terms such as ‘king’ and ‘royal family’ don’t exist as per the Constitution; and it is extremely shocking that even the mainstream media is using these words.
Geethanandan says that Gothra Maha Sabha welcomes the Supreme Court verdict. Banning women from entering the Sabarimala temple is a form of untouchability that existed in the name of caste, he says.
“Those who are protesting, are doing so in the garb of devotees, but in fact, they are trying to preserve casteist feelings that have been prevalent for long. The Sangh Parivar has been exploiting this in a planned manner. It is for the women to realise the trap in it. Unfortunately, a secular opinion could not be formed in favour of a secular verdict. Congress, for no reasons, has bowed down to Hindutva forces. By this foolish act, the Congress is, in fact, paving the way for the BJP to win seats in the next Lok Sabha election,” he says.