Opinion | When history repeats in Sabarimala wrangle

Police remove members of Kerala Students Union, the student wing of India's main opposition Congress party, as they take part in a protest after two women entered the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi, India, January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Eighty-seven years ago, on Jan. 1, 1932, the famous temple of deity Sree Krishna at Guruvayur in the then Malabar district of Madras province was closed by its owner, the Zamorin of Calicut.

It was following the attack of the 'upper-castes' on a non-violent protest in front of the temple. The Satyagraha, led by the Indian National Congress leaders and organisations like the Nair Service Society and the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, was to end the age-old practice of the ban on the entry of 'untouchables' inside the temple.

The temple was reopened on Jan. 28, 1932, and the protest continued.

The Brahmins could not digest the fact that people from lower castes were seeking entry to the temple. Leaders of the movement like P Krishna Pillai, A K Gopalan and many others were beaten during the protest.

It may be a coincidence that the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Pathanamthitta district in Kerala was closed for nearly an hour on Jan. 2, 2019, to 'purify' its premises. This 'remedial measure' was taken by the head priests after two women below 50 years of age entered the shrine. This follows a Supreme Court verdict that set aside a two-decade-long Kerala High Court judgment that banned women's entry into the hilltop shrine.

The Congress, the NSS, the SNDP and other organisations in Guruvayur fasted for the rights of the downtrodden and the Yogakshema Sabha (of Namboothiri Brahmins) passed a resolution in support of the movement.

Today, the BJP is fasting in front of the State Secretariat against the entry of women while the Yogakshema Sabha, the NSS and the Congress party activists are on the streets opposing the SC verdict, which is hailed as a progressive move. The Opposition leader and former Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala on Wednesday supported the Tantri for 'upholding the rituals' of the Sabarimala shrine by performing the 'purification rituals'.

It's ironic to know that the NSS president Sukumaran Nair thanked the priests for closing the temple after he had finished a speech on the 142nd birth anniversary of Mannath Padmanabhan, the NSS founder. Padmanabhan was one of the prominent faces of the Guruvayur Satyagraha. He was the chairman of the Satyagraha committee. As an elected member of Sree Moolam Praja Sabha - the Legislative Assembly of erstwhile Travancore Kingdom - he had reiterated the demands in the Assembly. NSS meetings throughout the state during this time had demanded the right for all Hindus to perform poojas inside the temple, which was partially fulfilled when the Kerala Government appointed non-Brahmin priests in the temples they own in 2018.

The Guruvayur Satyagraha ended on Oct. 2, 1932, when Mahatma Gandhi asked K Kelappan to end his indefinite fast. However, they continued to mobilise the public and generate a consensus, which led to the Temple Entry Proclamation of the Travancore Maharaja Chithira Tirunal Balarama Varma on Nov. 12. But the Guruvayur temple was opened to all Hindus only in June 1947, following The Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorisation Act of May 1947.

On Oct. 23, 2018, in a public rally at Pathanamthitta, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came down heavily on the Tantri and said that the government knows how to deal with anyone who thinks they can close down the Sabarimala temple. He was responding to the news that the Tantri plans to close the shrine if women enter the temple.

The ruling Left Democratic Front's leaders on Wednesday criticised the priest for closing the temple and performing the 'purification ritual'.

Many people believe that when women entering Sabarimala becomes commonplace in the future, history will judge the stands taken today by the Congress, the NSS and the Yogakshema Sabha.

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Opinion | When history repeats in Sabarimala wrangle

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