The attempt by Kerala Police to take two women from the banned age group to the Sabarimala hill shrine in the wake of the 28 September Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all ages to enter the temple has turned Sabarimala into a rallying point for political and communal polarisation.
The police have come under fire from not only the hardliners who are resisting the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict but also a section of the Communist-led government, which decided to implement the verdict during the six-day monthly puja from 17 October.
What has spurred the wrath is the attempt by the police to take the two women, who have nothing to do with faith. While Kavitha Jakkal, a journalist from Andhra Pradesh, wanted to go to the hill shrine for reporting purpose, Rehna Fathima, a Muslim woman activist, came forward to enter the temple as part of her struggle for women’s rights. Neither of them had performed the customary 41-day ‘vritha’ (penance).
To make matters worse, the police sought to take them to the shrine with the protective gears that they use during riots. This evoked strong criticism from opposition parties. While senior Congress leader and former home minister Thiruvanchiyoor Radhakrishnan termed it as a naked violation of Section 43 of the Kerala Police Act, the Bharatiya Janata Party termed it as part of conspiracy by the Left Democratic Front government to implement its atheist agenda at Sabarimala.
Section 43 of the Kerala Police Act stipulates that no person other than a police officer discharging official purpose shall, except for artistic or scientific purpose, wear any police uniform or any dress which is likely to have a feeling that it is a police uniform.
“By giving the uniform to the woman, the police have cheated the Ayyappa devotees, who are resisting the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. This calls for action against those responsible for misusing the police uniform,” he said.
BJP general secretary K Surendran alleged that the police was trying to implement the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) agenda to make Sabarimala a war zone. He said that party, which is propagating atheism, was trying to destroy Sabarimala.
“The Pinarayi Vijayan government is using the Supreme Court verdict to pursue its agenda. We will not allow this. We will resist any attempt to play with the faith of the people by even taking the law into our hands,” said the firebrand BJP leader.
The police action also drew criticism from Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran. He said that when the government declared its decision to implement the Supreme Court verdict it intended to provide protection to women devotees, who want to go to the temple and worship there.
“The police have been using their force to take activists, who have nothing to do with faith. Sabarimala is not a place for activists to pursue their cause. The police should have checked the credentials of the two women who came forward to visit the temple on Friday before escorting them to the hill shrine,” the minister said.
Health Minister K Shylaja also came down heavily on the police saying that the government had no intention to hurt the religious sentiments of the devotees. Even Governor Justice P Sathasivam disagreed with the way the situation was handled by the police.
Sathasivam, former chief justice of India, summoned Director General of Police Loknath Behra and conveyed his displeasure. The governor intervened after Sabarimala Thantri (high priest) Kandararu Rajeevaru threatened to close the temple if police went ahead with its move to facilitate the entry of the two women to the temple.
It was only after the intervention of the governor, the large police team led by Inspector General of Police S Sreejith decided to send back the women, whom they had escorted up to the Nadapanthal, which is 200 meters from the temple. The women were not willing to go back initially. They relented only after the devotees created a human shield.
The move also sparked protests in different parts of the state. While a group of aged women blocked the roads at Erumeli, one of the entry points to the shrine, another attacked the house of the woman from Kochi. The BJP and its women’s wing also took out a march to her house at Panampally Nagar.
Rehna said she agreed to return after she realised that her action had put not only her life but also that of her children into risk. She said she did not want to jeopardise the lives of her two children. The 31-year-old woman, a BSNL employee and a mother of two, was part of several movements.
She had hit the media headlines in March this year by posing bare-breasted with watermelons when a male professor described students’ breasts as watermelons and chided them for covering it. Rehna was also in the forefront of the ‘Kiss of Love’ campaign against moral policing in 2014.
Devotees feel that Rehna had tried to enter the temple for publicity and said that the police attempt to provide protection to such woman was aimed at provoking the devotees. Opposition leader Ramesh Chenenithala has blamed the government for the mess.
He said that the government had made Sabarimala a tourist spot by using its machinery to take women who have nothing to do with faith to the temple.
“Sabarimala is not a tourist spot, only devotees go there. Right now, what Kerala police is doing is wrong. Had there been our govt we would've handled the situation better. We would've talked to devotees, there would've been no violence,” he said.
Chennithala said it was unfortunate that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan sought to go abroad when an explosive situation prevailed in the state. “We did not criticise his visit to UAE since he had gone for raising funds for the post-flood reconstruction. However, the chief minister could have postponed his trip in view of the tense situation prevailing in the state,” he said.
The Congress leader said that the government response to the situation had helped the BJP and the RSS to pursue their Hindutva agenda in the state. He said that the government had given fuel to the saffron party by implementing the Supreme Court verdict without taking the devotees into confidence.
“Our government had opposed women’s entry at Sabarimala when the petition against the temple custom came up in the Supreme Court. The government had not only overturned our stand but also prevented the Travancore Devaswom Board from taking an independent stand on the issue. This has whipped up passions among the devotees,” he added.
He said that the refusal by genuine women devotees to go to Sabarimala showed that they were against breaking the customs and practices in the temple. The government cannot bulldoze the court order without understanding the feelings of the devotees and the situation prevailing in the state.
Devotee organisations have expressed happiness that no women have entered the temple since the court lifted the ban on women of the menstruating age. Ayyappa Seva Sangham secretary Mohanan Nair said that the government should learn a lesson from this and take steps to protect the interest of the devotees.
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Updated Date: Oct 19, 2018 18:59 PM