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Kerala’s wall of resistance

Kerala’s wall of resistance

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  • GS 2 || Governance|| Vulnerable Sections||Women

 Why in News?

  • Millions of Indian women joined hand-in-hand along the 620 km long stretch from the northern tip to the southern end of Kerala, to form a ‘women’s wall’ against the religious conservatives who have been opposing the Supreme Court verdict that allowed the entry of menstruating women in the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala.

 Basic Info- Why is Sabarimala case unique?

  • Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre located at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in the Western Ghat mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta District.
  • It is a very important Hindu pilgrimage specially in the southern part of India.
  • It is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world with an estimated 45–50 million devotees visiting every year.
  • The shrine at Sabarimala is an ancient temple of Ayyappan is also known as sasta and Dharmasasta.
  • In the 12th century, Manikandan, a prince of Pandalam dynasty, meditated at Sabarimala temple and became one with the divine.
  • Manikandan was an avatar of Ayyappan. Ayyappan of Sabarimala is worshipped as a celibate god.
  • Belief – the deity is a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ (eternal celibate)
  • Pilgrims are expected to practice celibacy and abstinence during the 41-day vratam (pious observances).
  • Sabarimala stands out among Kerala’s temples spaces for its accommodation of all devotees irrespective of religion and caste.
  • Main stakeholders of Sabarimala Temple are Travancore Devasom Board, Tantri (head priest) family, Pandalam Royal Family, Ayyappa Seva Sangam etc.

 What actually happened-New Year Day

  • 30 lakh women stood shoulder to shoulder along national highways to form a “women’s wall” that ran the length of Kerala.
  • The Wall stretched nearly 620 km from Kasaragod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south, symbolised the participants’ resolve to uphold the values of Kerala’s Renaissance, ensure gender justice, and counter “moves to turn the state into a lunatic asylum.”

  • The wall comprised women from all walks of life – social activists, filmstars, theatre personalities, writers, sports persons, nuns,farmers – and was bookended by Health Minister KK Shylaja in Kasaragod and the senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat in Thiruvananthapuram
  • The participants took a pledgeto protect the values of a social reformation movement, to support the idea of gender equality as conceived by the Constitution and to oppose any efforts to turn Kerala into “a lunatic asylum”.
  • Three days earlier, thousands of women and men mobilised by the Sangh had lit Ayyappa Jyothi, or Ayyappa’s lamps, vowing to save“Sabarimala’s traditions and rituals.” Ayyappa is Sabarimala’s presiding deity.

 Arguments in support of Women Entry

  • Preventing women from entering the places of worship goes against Articles 14, 15, 19, and 25 of the Indian constitution, which deal with the right to equality, the right against discrimination based on gender, freedom of movement and freedom of religion.
  • The excluded women claim that barring them access to the inner sanctum of the shrine violated their fundamental right under Article 25(1) to freely practice their religion.
  • Right to manage its own religious affairs under Article 26(1) cannot “override the right to practice religion itself”, as Article 26 cannot be seen to overrule the right to practice one’s religion as guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
  • Restricting the entry of women into places of worship is one of the ways of imposing patriarchy. Often the restrictions are based on patriarchy and not religion.
  • Banning entry to the temple is discriminatory since it subverts the idea of everyone being equal to God.

 Arguments against the Women Entry

  • Women are banned from entering the temples to preserve ‘purity’. The reason cited in Sabarimala case is that women during their menstruation period are not supposed to enter places of worship.
  • Referring to the presiding deity Lord Ayyappa as a Naishtika Bramhachari, many point out that it is the celibate nature of the deity that forms the basis of the practice and not misogyny.
  • Sabarimala was a separate religious cult with its own rules.
  • Article 15 of the Constitution does not apply to religious institutions. Article 15(2) provides citizens with the right to access to places such as hotels, shops and so on but nowhere does it mention public temples.
  • Some of those who oppose women’s entry argue that their actions are protected by Article 25(1).
  • Article 25(2) pertains to only secular aspects and it only pertaining to social issues, not gender or religious-based issues.

 The Supreme Court Verdict on Sabarimala Women Entry Issue in  September, 2018

  • The five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in its 4:1 verdict, said banning the entry of women into the shrine is gender discrimination and the practice violates the rights of Hindu women. It said religion is a way of life basically to link life with divinity.
  • The court observed that it can’t be oblivious to the fact of the case that a class of women is disallowed due to physiological reasons (menstruation).
  • The CJI said devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination and the patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion. While Justices R F Nariman and D Y Chandrachud concurred with the CJI and Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice Indu Malhotra gave a dissenting verdict.
  • Ironically, in the 4-1 verdict on Indian Young Lawyers Association & Others vs The State of Kerala & Others, the only dissenting vote was of the sole woman judge on the bench: Justice Indu Malhotra.
  • Justice Malhotra, in her dissenting judgement, said that the issues which have deep religious connotation should not be tinkered with to maintain a secular atmosphere in the country.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that the Sabarimala temple cannot discriminate against women of menstruating age by prohibiting their entry into the sanctum Sanctorum. “The country has not accepted women as partners in seeking divinity,” the court observed. “Subversion of women on biological factors cannot be given legitimacy.

 Additional Info

  • The recent issues of restriction on the entry of women in places of worship like Sabarimala, Shani Shingnapur, and Haji Ali have once again brought the focus on the debate ‘religious tradition versus gender equality’.
  • Excluding women from access to the shrine is a clear violation of their fundamental rights to equality (Article 14), non-discrimination (Article 15), and freedom of religion (Article 25).
  • The main issue is not an entry, but equality. The religious exclusion has a public character, and that it is not just an issue of a sacred tradition, but one of the civil rights and material and symbolic equality.
  • It is unfortunate that the courts have become the arbiter of what constitutes true religion. This situation has arisen because the Indian state is the agent for the reform and management of Hinduism and its institutions.
  • Beliefs and customs of devotees cannot be changed through a judicial process. The reforms should come from within the society. So long as that does not happen, we are likely to see religious issues being repeatedly taken to court.

 Practice Question

  • What is Sabrimala temple entry issue and what all aspects related to it?