‘It’s Constitutional values vs faith in Sabarimala’

Two sociologists in Bengaluru respond to the temple-entry controversy in Kerala.

This temple in Jalahalli is among the many Ayyappa temples in Bengaluru.

Sociologists in Bengaluru see the developments in Sabarimala as a clash between religious belief and Constitutional morality.


Sobin George

Political considerations aside, the situation has become a case study of the consequences of religious sentiments clashing with Constitutional safeguards, they say.

Sobin George, assistant professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change, explains the confrontation: “On one side, we have a strong story of equality and Constitutional morality. Clashes with religious rituals followed. However, the Supreme Court verdict is very clear — it only looked at merit in the petitions of women Hindu believers who wanted entry into the temple on the basis of Constitutional equality.”

History of social reform

Kerala society has witnessed many social reform movements. Earlier, women from the lower castes couldn’t cover their upper torsos or wear gold chains and nose rings.

It took a  strong renaissance movement, in which women participated, to change the scene. Whatever is happening now should be seen in this social context of Kerala, he says.

He attributes the violent protests to a dominant belief that women shouldn’t enter the temple, “normalised over the years.”

“For example, if you have been eating rocks for ages, you tend to believe that rocks are the best food. When people’s beliefs are shattered all of a sudden, they react. The situation may take two to three years to normalise,” he says.

The events unfolding should be seen in the larger perspective of the continuing fight of women for equality, and its manifestation in movements such as #MeToo.

“It is part of the strong reform movement we can see within Hinduism, as well as the emerging feminist discourse in India,” he says.

Why are women protesting against the entry of other women? Sobin cites a historical example. “When Sati was abolished, 50,000 women protested on the roads. They knew they would have to burn on the pyre of their husbands when they died but they were okay with it. If you believe something for a long time, you tend to normalise it,” he says.

Narendar Pani, professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, says India as a society has never been supportive of a common civil code.


Narendar Pani

“Even in the Mughal era, a great deal of flexibility was given to multiple Hindu customs across the country. The British left personal law out of their rules and regulations. So now any attempt to create a common civil code, either from the right or the left, will be resisted,” he told Metrolife.

The argument for a common civil code has come from a right-wing party, and is seen as a way to control the minorities. Sabarimala has clearly shown that the resistance to such a  code will come from within Hindus themselves, he believes.

“We are basically a very individualistic society with our own beliefs; any attempt by an external authority to alter those beliefs will be resisted — that’s the main lesson we should take,” he says.

About the violence, he says India no longer has leaders who value non-violence. “Creating genuine, meaningful non-violent protests requires a leadership of the level of Gandhi. The violence stems from the belief that this is my personal space and no one should enter it,” he says.

He does not doubt that women need an equal right to worship, but argues the reform must come from within.

“Let the believers and the reformists have a debate and come to a conclusion; that is when it will be more successful,” he says.

Religious rights can’t be enforced from outside—the moment you do that, you are mixing up the women’s rights issue with the right to worship. And when you mix these up, all issues are completely distorted, he says.

Ayyappa temples in Bengaluru have no restrictions on entry of women

No other Ayappa temple is known to have restrictions on the entry of women. When we spoke to Yogesh, nadaswaram player and part of the Ayyappa Seva Samithi in Bengaluru, he says that women might be distractions to the male devotees who make the Sabarimala ascent. “Men will become impure if they touch, or even look at girls who have their periods,” he said. 

He blamed actor-turned-minister Jayamala for kickstarting the issue and opines that there is a hatred towards Kannadigas in Kerala because of this reason. 

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‘It’s Constitutional values vs faith in Sabarimala’

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