The Sabarimala Case: History Not Made


According to the legends, He was borne out of love between two men. He has a bereft woman waiting for him at the foothills and will only join hands with her if not one devotee ends up in His shrine thereby breaking out of his long-held celibacy. There sure has to be a joke hidden in there somewhere. Except there isn’t.

On January 2016, a group of women filed a petition saying the ban enforced on menstruating women at the Sabarimala temple (from ages 10 to 50) stripped away women’s fundamental right to worship. Following the petition, the lawyers that filed the case received death threats driving the ruling Communist-Marxist (yes, you read that right) party of Kerala to provide them with security. September, 2018 dawned with an historic ruling from the Supreme Court reverting the 100-year-old ban; the highlight of the ruling is that with this 4-1 verdict, the SC set loose its most reprimanding tone. “Any rule based on discrimination or segregation of women pertaining to biological characteristics is not only unfounded, indefensible and implausible but can also never pass the muster of constitutionality,” the ruling read.

The Travancore Devaswom Boards (TDB) started its preparation for its peak season (which starts in November) for not only its overhead unruly but holy male pilgrimage but also bleeding, unholy, impure women. Both the powerful parties of India, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress have been vocal about their support for the proponents of the ban. BJP Chief, Amit Shah, threatened to derail the ruling communist party starting his speech with the famous incantation of summoning the lord: Swamiye Saranam Aiyappa.

But none of this matters, right? The Supreme Court has the highest moral and legal authority over a liberal democracy, right? Right?

The New York Times reports at least 12 women attempted the three-mile journey to the Sanctum Sanctorum including one of their own with maximum security that can be mustered by the State Government. All of them were driven to turn back. One of them fainted due to sheer stress. Malayalam actor Kollam Thulasi said, “if [women] dared to enter the temple, they will be ripped in half.” Vehicles were set aflame. Stones were pelted against the invading second gender.

So do century-old religious traditions really gain precedence over contemporary mind-set of the people? What exactly are protestors saying?

Girish Sahane for calls the verdict a judicial overreach saying, “The courts should step in only when a fundamental right is seen to be curtailed, as it was through centuries of caste discrimination. For the rest, we have to hope that reform movements within individual faiths will gradually make them more equitable.” Author Vineetha Menon writes for The Organiser (a magazine run by the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS): “There is no jubilation among Hindu women devotees; on the contrary, they are distressed.” Murugan, a Hindu devotee to the temple, told the BBC“We have been coming to temple for the last 30 years. But we may not come back because women entering the temple will spoil our belief system and sacred rituals.” Other opponents–like Rahul Easwar for The Hindugo into detail about the “uniqueness” of Lord Ayyappa conjuring Sanskrit-laden jargon and Gita as and when required.

I actually dug into the internet trying to find at least one valid argument for the support of the ban, but what you will find in the above paragraph will as deep as it will get. I have taken the liberty of stripping away the inessential: tagging the protests as an outsider job.

The verdict read by the Supreme Court Supreme Court speaks for itself. Loud and clear. Like a bell tolling in an abandoned city. Because the theme of the ruling is not complicated. It does not use flowery language beating around the bush like I do. It is unashamedly bold. Not very unlike obscenity on a decrepit wall. Like all accepted theorems governing the laws of universe, it reiterates one simple theme: all men are equal.

Oh, the irony.

There really is no counter argument. It does not matter if something is practiced for a week or a century, if it doesn’t proffer modern ethos of secularism and equality, no law, be it Government or religion, should protect it. Suhrith Parthasarathy for The Hindu does nail it when he says, “If the court can look beyond the essential practices doctrine and see this case for what it really is — a denial to women not only of their individual rights to freedom of religion but also of equal access to public space — it can help set the tone for a radical re-reading of the Constitution.” He is a lawyer, so that basically is translation for “the court should see pure BS for BS”. When you strip away all the protests, violent-laden soliloquies, TV channels shouting at top of their lungs, screaming headlines, three-mile trails, 18 step decorated stairways, all of these do not matter. What matters is what upholds our constitution. And the ban is denial of basic rights in its purest form.

The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it would hear 19 review petitions next month challenging the ruling, though lawyers said it was unlikely that the decision would be overturned.

Lord Aiyappa is finally very close to gettin’ some.

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