Adding to the headache of the Kerala state government in the Sabarimala matter, Pune-based women’s rights activist Trupti Desai said today that the she is planning to visit the shrine later this month.
“The temple will open on 17 November. I will soon write a letter to the SP [of police] and the CM [chief minister],” she said. “I hope to reach the temple within 2-3 days of the 17th,” she added.
The announcement is likely increase frustration levels inside the Left Front government of Kerala, which has been trying to walk a tightrope between balancing the sentiments of Keralites — the majority of whom are against the entry of women into the temple — and its constitutional duty to implement the orders of the Supreme Court of India.
The Supreme Court had, two weeks ago, overturned a 25-year old order of the Kerala High Court that had asked the state government to protect the rules and traditions of the temple on the entry of young women.
According to temple tradition, women between the age of 10 and 50 are not allowed inside. Many temples in India have various prohibitions on the entry of men, women, children and so on, depending on the local beliefs of the people who use the temple.
Trupti Desai’s Bhumata Brigade has been leading a campaign of forcing all temples in India to admit people of both sexes.
In her home state of Maharashtra, Desai has been able to enter temples where local customs and traditions were against such entry for women. She has also, in recent months, expressed her keenness to enter the Dharma Sastha temple at Sabarimala as well.
HEADACHE FOR LDF
Her arrival, however, could aggravate an already complicated situation for the state government, especially given that she is likely to be seen by devotees as an outsider trying to desecrate their temple.
Unlike other temples that Desai has campaigned against, the shrine at Sabarimala is no ordinary temple.
Considered the holiest place of worship for Hindus in Kerala, the annual pilgrimage to the forest shrine is supposed to be the culmination of a 41-day rigorous ritual of self-purification involving extremely difficult practices and abstinence.
It is considered a sin to visit the temple without undertaking the penance.
At least some of the activists who tried to enter temple did not observe the penance, which helped add to the feeling of insult and discomfort felt by the regular pilgrims.
Since the court pronounced its order, over a dozen female activists have tried to enter the temple, but all have had to turn back in face of stiff opposition and protests by devotees at the site.
Public opinion in Kerala — including that among non-Hindus — is overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of the police forcibly taking women into the temple.
This has forced the Left Front government to so far avoid the use of force in trying to take women inside the temple.
Another complicating factor has been the tremendous crowds.
The temple, which is open only for around two months a year, is almost always teeming with pilgrims, making it unsuitable for a low-impact, stealth operation by the police.
Devotees at Sabarimala often stand in line for as many as 26 hours for darshan due to the heavy rush that is always present, especially during the Mandala period that starts this month.
The state religious affairs minister has tried to justify the government’s reluctance to use force by saying that the Supreme Court order was aimed at ensuring the rights of genuine worshipers of Ayyappa.
It, he said, was not aimed at facilitating non-believers, anti-superstition activists and women’s rights activists to show their strength at the temple.
However, a section within the ruling Left Front as well as within the government has been opposed to the minister’s stand, arguing that the police should take any woman inside the temple by force if she makes such a request.
Desai too faulted the state government for its hesitation in using force to disperse the protesting devotees.
She also wondered why crowds are seen around the temple when section 144, which prohibits more than 4 persons from standing together, is in force.
“Section 144 is in force and still the devotees are forming a crowd and rushing in whenever a woman is trying to approach,” Desai said. “This is absolutely wrong.
“Somewhere, the government and the police are failing in their duty of ensuring protection [for the women],” she added.
The state government has found it difficult to reach for the most obvious solution to the problem — of seeking reprieve from the Supreme Court — as the Pinarayi Vijayan government does not want to dilute its carefully cultivated ‘tough image’.
It fears that seeking a review of the order in the light of protests and popular sentiment would amount to a climb-down as the same government had withdrawn an earlier affidavit opposing women’s entry and filed a new one assuring the court that it was willing to implement any order that the court issues.
On the other side, the issue has pushed the Congress Party into paralytic irrelevance due to the conflict between the state leaders — who oppose women’s entry — and Rahul Gandhi, who supports it.
Meanwhile, the paralysis of the Congress and the ‘ego hassles’ of the Communists have left the field open for the BJP as the only party free to tap into the popular resentment.
Sensing the opportunity and the popular upwelling of resentment, the saffron party quickly changed its position from pro-women’s entry to pro-tradition and launched into street protests and agitations.
On Monday, leaked tapes showed state BJP chief Sridharan Pillai gloating that rival parties are falling into a trap ‘one by one’ in the Sabarimala matter and that the confusion was a ‘golden opportunity’ for the party to gain a foothold in the state.