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Sabarimala Temple: The New Political Battleground?

By Janeesha Singh

The question of lifting the ban on entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple was a difficult one, at the heart of which lay the clash between two Constitutional principles, i.e., Article 14 which promotes equality and is gaining impetus in the fight against patriarchy and religious freedom under Article 25 which is the cornerstone of the principle of secularism. The Supreme Court, by a 4-1 majority, decided in favour of Article 14, paving the path for women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala Temple. Justice Chandrachud, who has been at the helm of social change through his recent judgments stated, “To exclude women from worship by allowing the right to worship to men is to place women in a position of subordination. The Constitution should not become an instrument for the perpetuation of patriarchy.” Interestingly, the dissent opinion for letting faith be was penned by the only woman on the bench, Justice Indu Malhotra, who argued that issues that are imbued with deep religious faith and sentiment are not to be interfered by the Courts.

The Sabarimala issue is one that wrestles with moral, religious as well as constitutional dilemmas, however, like all issues in India, the political has eclipsed all of the other. The voice of the women has been sidelined as Sabarimala Temple becomes the battleground for the opportunist politicians in a tussle for upcoming general elections.

The BJP, as a self-proclaimed custodian of all things Hindu, has used the Sabarimala issue to remind the people that it has, and always will, support the Hindus. It has even gone so far to create an environment of violence and outrage around the shrine with the sole purpose of preventing women worshippers from entering the premises. The BJP is empowered to pass an ordinance reversing the Supreme Court verdict if it believes in standing by the enraged protesters. Even though the ordinance may be struck down later, it’s still a feasible solution, right? If you think so, you have failed to consider how this political theatre and a prolonged crisis works in the favour of the BJP. This issue presents itself as a “golden opportunity” to pursue “the agenda” in the words of their state president. What agenda, you may ask. It is safe to believe that the agenda referred to herein is to use the anger of the people to whip up communal sentiments, thereby ensuring that the Hindus would see who their protector is.

It’s unclear what role the State Government, i.e., the ruling party CPI-M is playing here. One day it stated that it was going to implement the ruling of the Apex Court and escorted women to the shrine, adjust the other day it ordered the police to prevent any woman from entering the premise.

The Congress, as is the convention, has focused all of its energy on criticising the ruling party as well as BJP, while flailing between the two sides. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, stated, “The cause of Dalit entry into temples was championed both by large numbers of Dalits and by many of their co-religionists of other castes, who all felt that the ban was an abominable social practice with no religious sanction. There has been no similar mass movement of believing women clamouring for entry here. Indeed, as many have pointed out to me, the nature of the deity at Sabarimala is such that if you believe in Him, you would not wish to disturb Him as a naishtika brahmachari. They are, therefore “Ready to Wait”. Those few women of reproductive age who seek to go there are by definition going not out of belief, but curiosity.” So the 620 km human chain formed by women in Kerala, which has been cited around the globe as one of the largest congregations of protest, represents mere curiosity? Did the politicians fail to see the woman holding her camera at Sabarimala, tears flowing down her face as she was harassed by the protesters?

Many people who oppose the entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple would cite the presence of so many women amongst the protestors around the shrine as cogent proof that this issue isn’t a matter of gender equality, rather about respecting religious sentiments. Did they fail to see all the women attempting to enter the shrine and the violent reaction of men to it? Another argument states that Sabarimala Temple isn’t the only one that indulges in such gender-discrimination, after all there’s the Kumari Amman temple in Kanyakumari that doesn’t permit men to enter the premises. So why has the Court chosen Sabarimala to interfere with? Such arguments are endless and all have one thing in common, that is, faith. After all, what can be greater than faith?

This isn’t about “respecting religious sentiments,” rather a fervent cry for the vital principle of gender-equality to take the centre stage, to become universally observed in the religious world, and to use religion as a tool to achieve this goal rather than justify oppression of the masses.

Janeesha Singh is a third year student at Jindal Global Law School.


Tharoor, Shashi “ Forgive me liberal friends, but I can’t completely overlook faith of Sabarimala devotees” ThePrint January 9, 2019  

“On January 1, 2019, women form 620-km human chain in Kerala” The Hindu

“Attacked By Sabarimala Protesters, She Kept Camera Rolling” NDTV News

Image Source- Outlook India

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