A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in September 2018 threw open the gates of Sabarimala shrine to women of all ages. The Sabarimala verdict is a departure from radical religious customs and traditions that prohibit women in the menstruating age from entering the temple to worship.
Lauded by many, the judgment is touted as transformative and historic, for the apex court calls it unconstitutional to deny women the right to worship. Two women from Kerala, Bindu and Kanaka Durga entered the shrine of Sabarimala and offered prayers recently. The difficult task was achieved easily with support from the state government, but it’s the chaos that has erupted after their visit that puts the country to shame.
It took ages for India to move its administration out from the temples and to bring it in the purview of the citizens. However, the recent incidents reflect that the administration (read current) could not distance itself from the temples, for it keeps bringing it up for political gains, and history is the proof here.
The independence of the judiciary is a basic tenet of Constitution and to disregard its decision, threatens the idea of constitutional democracy. The apex court’s decision to allow women inside the shrine under the Article 141 of the Constitution, is no longer a matter of policy decision to be undertaken by the government or the Travancore Devasom Board because it has become the rule of the land now. The decision was accepted by the State government of Kerala, which instantaneously started preparing for the festival season and making arrangements for the women pilgrims.
The religious fanatics thrive on ill-informed religious feelings of the common people for political gain.
The mob on the street does not reflect a majoritarian view. Even if mob is the majority, it doesn’t have the right to vote away the rights of the minority.
Speaking of the minority, the government’s view on Triple Talaq and Sabarimala are stark in contrast. A recent interview, brackets the above cases as ‘not an issue of faith’ and ‘traditions’ respectively. More oxymoronic statements were ever said but in that interview. Triple Talaq is categorized as anti-woman and primitive in nature. However, The Muslim (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill passed hurriedly by the government in 2017, did not consider the arguments from the actual stakeholders, the Muslim community. The bill makes instant triple talaq a criminal offence. Any possibility of reconciliation immediately ends once the Muslim man is criminalized. The bill has faced its share of deliberations and oppositions. Nevertheless, applause to the government for their attempt to bring an end to the regressive practice.
However, barring women from entering a temple is denying them their basic human right to pray. After the two Kerala women entered the temple, the temple was closed for purification rituals. This action clearly degrades women and categorize them as untouchables. Menstruation is a biological process and discriminating women on it, is inhuman and unnatural. During the Dalit movements for civil rights in the 20th century, temple bans were considered as a powerful symbol for untouchability and inferiority. Even today, after so many years we still discriminate against our women. Much of this discrimination is expressed through violence and deprivation.
If Triple Talaq bill is about attaining gender equality, so is the verdict on Sabarimala. The fight for entry into Sabarimala must be understood not as a struggle to defeat religious beliefs, but as a struggle to ensure that as a society we ensure equality of women. The judgement is a synthesis of the thesis of faith and science of Constitution. The shrine’s principle philosophy is Tat Tvam Asi i.e. all living beings possess the essence of the Brahman (the Divine), which means that every living being is equal. The judicial verdict aimed at adding principles of equality to the domain of faith. The attempt was to balance gender rights and religious rights.
By calling it just a ‘tradition’ is like going back to the regressive age and negate the radical social reforms of Shankaracharya, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Narayana Guru, and many others who worked tirelessly to uplift the Indian society. The situation is really unfortunate. The hypocrisy and communalization of the polity in Sabarimala are tragic in nature. The women protesting under the influence of the misguided morality are at the wrong side of the history.
While the Supreme Court tries to bridge the gap, it’s a pity that rather than understanding the scientific rationale behind these decisions, we choose to condemn them and regress ourselves.
Our social reality is shrouded by inequities and discrimination that conflict with our fundamental rights.
The Sabarimala case is an opportunity that offers the Supreme Court a chance to bring our social reality closer to our constitutional ideals. It’s a chance we must seize in order to achieve singularity between the theory and what we practice.
(The author is the founder, director and CEO of Fiinovation and Chairman of Centre for CSR and Sustainability Excellence)