EDITORIAL | Rule of law at stake in Sabarimala

EDITORIAL | Rule of law at stake in Sabarimala

Hindu devotees wait inside the premises of the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala. REUTERS

The attack on journalists near Sabarimala was the less unacceptable and objectionable part of the campaign against the entry of young women into the shrine. A number of journalists, representing local, national and international media organisations, were threatened and assaulted, and their vehicles and equipment damaged in the first two days of the opening of the shrine on Wednesday. The media personnel had gone there to report on the situation arising from the Supreme Court’s order which allowed entry of women of all age groups into the shrine. A number of organisations had announced that they would thwart the entry of young women while the state government had said that it was duty-bound to implement the court order. There was tension and confrontation on the entire route leading up to the shrine. Journalists were the first victims of the violence unleashed by those who opposed the court order. Preventing journalists from doing their work poses a threat to freedom of speech and expression.

READ: Women forced to make U-turn at Sabarimala

But there is a bigger threat to other freedoms, constitutional values and the rule of law from the frenzy that has been whipped up in Sabarimala and the resulting violence and vigilantism that is on display there. The Supreme Court order is being openly flouted on the most unreasonable and disingenuous grounds. Searches are being conducted in all the vehicles that go to Sabarimala and the few young women who wanted to go to the shrine are being intimidated and made to go back. The agitation is directed by Hindu activist groups operating under different names and styles, and by the workers of the RSS and the BJP. When the court delivered its judgement, the RSS and all parties, including the BJP and the Congress, had welcomed it. It is later that the two parties realised the political possibilities in opposing the judgement. The BJP went one up on the Congress, tightening its positions, shifting goalposts, mobilising devotees all over the state and painting the state government as the villain in the whole episode. The government, on its part, had failed to read the popular sentiment. 

READ: Meet the Sabarimala 'warriors': Rehana & Kavitha

The result is that vigilantes have a free run of Sabarimala. The government has repeatedly said that it would implement the court order and give protection to those who wanted to go to the shrine. But it clearly has constraints in dealing with the mob, as it could be seen as acting against the devotees, too. It is not just the court order that is being challenged in Kerala. Ideals and values gained through decades of social reform in the state are in danger as a regressive wave is sweeping it. 

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