Op-Ed: The Constitution must prevail at all times, on all issues

The difficult part was accomplished without much difficulty. But it’s such a shame that having done the seemingly unthinkable by actually entering the Lord Ayappa temple in Sabarimala in the wee hours of Wednesday, Bindu and Kanak Durga – the two bravehearts of Kerala – now cannot return home to resume their normal life. They are apparently holed up at an undisclosed place, hiding from the prying eyes of the hordes of hoodlums masquerading as protectors of ‘tradition’ while hundreds of policemen guard their houses to ward off any possible attack by the goons crying revenge. They are unable to contact their family members, who are understandably anxious about their safety.

The fact that the two brave women had to beat a hasty retreat after an earlier aborted attempt at doing what they finally managed on Wednesday proves that they could not have been unaware of the consequences of their act. This makes what they did even more praiseworthy. It is not easy for women in India to brave the wrath of male bigotry and obscurantism. As Swami Agnivesh noted so succinctly in an Open Letter to women in Kerala; “Kerala under Pinarayi Vijayan is becoming the laboratory for the democratic self-assertion of women.”

It is possible that the Kerala government’s pledge of support to women keen to visit Sabaraimala is guided by politics. But pray what are the state-wide, violent protests that followed the entry of the two women into the temple guided by, if not politics? The Sangh Parivar’s response to the temple entry is entirely along expected lines. It clearly sees in the stand-off a heaven-sent opportunity to enlarge its footprint in the state described in travel brochures as ‘God’s Own Country. But what about the Congress, the self-proclaimed repository of all progressive, liberal and modern impulses of the country? Why is it opposing the act of Bindu and Kanak Durga instead of backing them? The fact that the entry of women has been allowed by no less than the Supreme Court doesn’t appear to matter for a party that never tires of reiterating its commitment to the Constitution. I am afraid this dubious act of the party is on par with the party’s abject surrender to patriarchal, misogynist forces in the Shah Bano case during the reign of the present AICC President’s father in the mid 1980s.

The ‘credit’ for the most hypocritical stand on the issue of Sabarimala, however, has to go to no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Watching his response to a question by ANI Editor Smita Prakash on the issue during the course of the interview aired on New Year ’s Day, I was reminded almost inevitably of his stirring address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort last Independence Day. During the course of his speech, Modi had assured the ‘Muslim mothers, sisters and daughters’ that he would do all he could to save them from the scourge of Triple Talaq.

Now, both the Triple Talaq and the Sabarimala cases were decided by the Supreme Court. In the former, the apex court asked the Union government to enact a law to outlaw Triple Talaq which it ruled was unconstitutional. In the latter too, the court ruled that the ban on the entry of menstruating women into Sabarimala was unconstitutional. But look at the stark contrast between the PM’s response to the two issues. On Triple Talaq, he claimed that it was not an issue of ‘faith’ – and promptly pointed to the ban on this decidedly primitive and anti-women practice in several Muslim countries to prove his point – and but one of ‘gender equality’ and ‘social justice’. Now contrast this with what he said on the issue of Sabarimala during the interview to ANI. “There are many temples in India where men are not allowed and men don’t go there. Temples have their own traditions, in a limited sphere.”

Modi called for meticulous attention to what Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman judge in the five-member Constitutional bench that decided the Sabaramimala case, said. “There is no need for any political party to interfere. As a woman judge, she has given some suggestions which need to be discussed.”

It is astounding that the Prime Minister of the country chose to dwell on the lone dissenting voice in the bench, but had absolutely nothing to say on the judgment itself, which outlawed the ban. In picking Indu Malhotra, he was perhaps just trying to emphasise the point that even women – and a Supreme Court judge at that – are in favour of the continuation of the ban. But it showed him in very poor light, a Prime Minister who has scant respect for the highest court of the land. For all you know, he could bring an ordinance to nullify the SC judgment – as Rajiv Gandhi had done in the Shah Bano case – in a desperate bid to pander to the constituency that he feeds on and to get a foothold for his party in a state where it has been a non-entity so far.

Even if one accepts the argument that all three major players – the LDF, the UDF and the BJP – in Kerala are ‘playing politics’, Pinnarayi Vijayan deserves kudos because he has chosen to be on the side of Constitutional order and has done what he is expected to do by providing all support and protection to the two women, rather than surrender to the forces determined to take India into the medieval ages.

The Constitution must prevail at all times, on all issues!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)