The issue about whether or not women of 'reproductive age’ should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala has been hotly debated across the country over the past decade, and two clear arguments have emerged. The first of these is the tradition argument (read this piece by MA Deviah) and the second is the women’s sexuality argument (read this piece by Urvashi Butalia).
However, developments over the recent days threaten to render them both moot.
At the centre of the storm is a 2006 public interest litigation (PIL) placed before the Supreme Court by the Indian Young Lawyers Association (IYLA). The petition called for women of all ages to be allowed entry to the Sabarimala temple, and has been listed for final disposition by the country’s top court, with the next hearing scheduled for Sunday.
However, over the past few days, Delhi-based president of the IYLA advocate Naushad Ahmed Khan and advocate Ravi Prakash Gupta — who filed the petition — have been on the receiving end of over 500 threat calls. “I am receiving threatening calls since Wednesday on my mobile number. Callers are from different numbers, different parts of the country and even international numbers, including internet calls,” said Khan. A large percentage of these numbers originate from West Asia and the US.
Not entirely unexpectedly, Khan’s protests that he was not the petitioner fell on deaf ears. “Callers have threatened me saying that they would blow up my house and kill me… I am being targeted as a Muslim lawyer when I have no say in the matter,” he told The Daily Mail.
It’s interesting that these death threats are only just cropping up. Perhaps, it’s because the Supreme Court is set to deliver its verdict soon. Or maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the three-judge Special Bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, observed on Tuesday that unless the Travancore Devaswom Board — that manages the temple — has a “constitutional right” to prevent women from entering, they may not prohibit the entry of women.
Clearly, this didn’t sit well with the 500+ callers who sensed that the side of the debate that they espoused was in danger.
That the solution to tackling someone with a different view of how-things-should-be is to wipe them off the face of the Earth is not even shocking anymore. After all, we’re seeing this solution being deployed in West Asia every day. We’re seeing it in Europe. We’ve seen it in India.
The idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword, but the sword is more effective” is one that not only defeats the purpose of debate, but destroys any hope of having all viewpoints heard.
And that is exactly what is happening to the Sabarimala PIL.
The atmosphere has become vitiated to the point where the debate was overshadowed by these threats of violence. And (justifiably) fearful for his life, Khan approached the Supreme Court seeking to withdraw the petition.
Fortunately, the apex court stepped in and made it that much harder for the sword to cut down the pen.
Recognising the serious nature of the threats to Khan and Gupta, the Supreme Court announced that it will appoint amicus curiae to decide on the PIL constitutionally.
Regardless of the eventual verdict, this is a step in the right direction and it sends out the message to those threatening violence that ideas are indeed bulletproof