EDITORIAL | Sangh Parivar, back off in Kerala

Protestors hold placards bearing the image of Kerala Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan during a demonstration over two women entering the Sabarimala Ayyapa temple. AFP

Kerala has witnessed unprecedented violence after the entry of two young women into the Sabarimala shrine in the early hours of Wednesday. The violence was unleashed by Sangh Parivar groups which called for a hartal on Thursday to protest against the entry of the women into the shrine. Cadres of the RSS, the BJP and other Hindutva bodies had blocked the entry of women into the shrine ever since the Supreme Court had in September ruled that women of all age groups had the right to worship at the temple. Some women who tried to reach the temple were forced to go back by Hindutva cadres who resorted to violence and intimidation, or were persuaded to go back by the police for fear of breach of the peace. The two women, Bindu and Kanakadurga, were escorted into the temple by the police when the Sangh Parivar activists had lowered their guard. 

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The police did nothing wrong, as the opponents charge, by facilitating the women’s entry into the shrine. The government and the police have the responsibility to ensure that intending women worshippers were able to do so, because it was the mandate of the court. It was the priests of the temple who acted wrongly by conducting a purification ceremony after the women’s entry. None of the arguments against women’s entry are right. If the question is why some other court judgements are not implemented, the answer is to implement them, too, apart from this. The tradition that bars the entry of young women into the shrine is a recent one. Even if it existed at all times, the fundamental right to equality of a woman overrides the tradition. The formation of a women’s wall across the state in which lakhs of women participated on New Year’s Day was an assertion of this right. 

Kerala is in danger of losing some of the values it had gained and internalised through social reform movements in the last century. There are still social conservatives who vouch for the patriarchal traditions in Sabarimala and even many women are influenced by their thinking. The Sangh Parivar has been trying to exploit such thinking and sentiments for political ends. The protests against women’s entry, the widespread violence in the state and the continuing threats and intimidation are part of the political plan. The two women who prayed at the temple have only made a point. The challenge is to ensure that all woman who want to go to Sabarimala and pray there can do so in peace, without being obstructed. Sabarimala is a test case for Kerala and its outcome will be important elsewhere, too.

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