How do you adjudicate between man and god? You don’t. Especially when neither is likely to be amenable to good sense in such matters which belong purely in the realm of individual faith. That would explain the less-than-half-hearted effort by the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government in Kerala to enforce the Supreme Court verdict in the Sabarimala case. Judicially voiding the age-old practice of barring the entry of menstruating women between the 10-50 age group to the temple, the apex court ordered free and unrestricted entry for women of all ages. Despite strong opposition from the devotees and other allied groups, the Supreme Court found no merit in the ban, asserting that it violated the basic requirement of gender equality and fundamental rights of citizens.
Last week when the order came into force, all eyes were on the Sabarimala shrine of Lord Ayyappa. However under the watchful eyes of the global media, protesters who remain wholly irreconciled to the apex court order blocked the entry of a group of women who sought to enter the shrine. But that was only to be expected. The surprise is that a self-avowedly progressive Left Front Government headed by Marxist chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan failed to provide adequate protection to the women keen to enter the temple. The failure of the Kerala Police to strictly enforce Section 144 to ensure that protesters did not assemble en route the shrine stemmed from an indecisive and weak government which was torn between its constitutional duty to honour the Supreme Court order and the electoral concerns about losing support of a wide section of the people. Should it be seen to be overzealous in breaking the age-old tradition of a ban on menstruating women entering the widely revered temple, albeit as per the court orders, the Marxist Government feared, it would alienate a large section of the electorate which holds the shrine in very high regard. In short, all that talk of the Marxists being anti-god, irreligious, etc was a mere talk. When it comes to electoral considerations Marxists too pander to the populist beliefs as do any other democratic parties.
Of course, it was no surprise when the Kerala BJP openly supported the traditionalists in opposing the implementation of the apex court order. Its State leaders and cadres actively participated in the protests aimed at preventing, even intimidating, the few women who sought to brave the man-made hazards in order to reach the inner precincts of the temple. No one got anywhere near the sanctum sanctorum, with the head priest threatening to lock the temple rather than acquiesce in the entry of women in the 10-50 age group. Given that the BJP is accused day in and day out for being a pro-Hindu party, its stance on the Sabarimala shrine could be understood in that perspective. But what about the Congress Party? It claims to be one hundred per cent secular and often leads the charge against the BJP for being communal. Why was it openly defying the SC order and virtually vying with the BJP in opposing the entry of women to the shrine? Quite clearly, the Congress Party realizes that the BJP represents the popular mood on the Sabarimala issue and regardless of its own pretensions to be secular, it would go where it thinks the votes are — never mind the open defiance of the apex court and the potential threat of a contempt of court notice.
Chastened by the tension-filled events of last week when under the nose of the heavy police bandobust, devotees prevented the entry of women, the board of the government-managed Sabarimala trust, notably, headed by a Marxist, has proposed to file a revision petition in the Supreme Court for a second look at its original order. The move has the tacit support of the Left Front Government as well. Meanwhile, the activist women out to make a point about gender equality and rights have suffered a temporary setback. With time and patience, the clock of progress and rationality will certainly move forward. The need is for some understanding and tact instead of seeking momentary fame and peer approbation.