Op-Ed: Kudos to Kerala Govt For Its Handling Of The Sabarimala Stand-off

History is witness to the fact that meaningful social change has never come easy anywhere in the world. And when it is a conservative society bound by centuries of tradition like India, change becomes even more difficult. In this backdrop, the fact that not a single woman devotee in the menstruating age group could make it to the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple in Kerala owing to stiff resistance by devotees of Lord Ayyappa during the five days it was opened after the landmark Supreme Court judgement should not come as a surprise – or a setback.

Time was when ‘sati’ (the practice of the wife jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband), child marriage and even human sacrifice were all considered an essential part of the Hindu tradition. But centuries of social reforms, backed by progressive legislation, have mercifully led to a change in the mindset of the people to the extent where all these practices appear abhorrent now. Closer home, Harijans were not allowed into the Lord Jagannath temple in Puri till after Independence citing ‘centuries old’ temple traditions. We should take heart from the fact that Hinduism has not only survived, but has actually flourished despite the end of these abominable practices and hope that the resistance to the entry of women in the age group of 10-50 into the temple dedicated to the ascetic, celibate god would also lose steam in time. All that is needed to ensure this is loads of patience and tons of restraint.

Hearteningly, Kerala police displayed both these qualities in abundant measure during the five-day stand-off at the temple since October 17 despite grave provocations by those opposing the SC verdict. It walked the tricky tightrope between reaffirming its commitment to implementing the landmark verdict and paying heed to the sentiments of on the devotees, many of them women themselves, opposed to the SC ruling with admirable dexterity. ‘Acting tough’ would have almost certainly proved counter-productive and provided a heaven-sent opportunity to the Hindutva forces, eagerly waiting to pounce on it, to indulge in rabble-rousing. While the cops provided security to the handful of women who dared to take the trip despite the belligerence of the naysayers, as they were duty-bound to do, they also persuaded them to retrace their steps when they saw imminent danger for them rather than use force against the protesters. The LDF government in Kerala deserves kudos from every right thinking person in the country for doing what it did despite knowing that its stand on the issue could cost it dearly in a religiously polarized society.

In sharp contrast, the Congress, supposedly the flag-bearer of the liberal, progressive and secular values enshrined in our Constitution, didn’t exactly cover itself in glory by the way it kowtowed to the obscurantist forces fuming against the SC verdict. One didn’t expect anything better from the BJP, which behaved true to type all through the Sabarimala saga. But for the Congress to pander to medieval sentiments in its experiments in ‘soft Hindtuva’ was not only a betrayal of the trust of the progressive forces in the country, but also amounted to political hara-kiri. The fact that it spoke in forked tongues in its too-clever-by-half effort to be all things to all people – the AICC welcomed the SC ruling while the Kerala unit of the party opposed it – didn’t fool anyone. It is beyond this columnist that the oldest party in India cannot see that it’s the BJP that would benefit politically in case there is religious polarization over the issue. Rahul Gandhi’s experience with ‘soft Hindutva’ during the Gujarat elections should have convinced him that such an approach is not going to pay any political dividends for his party. The only way it can trudge back to power at the Centre, he must understand, is by going back to the core values that have stood it in good stead over the areas, not by competing with the BJP for the ‘Hindu’ vote. The party may have shot itself in the foot by doing what it did during the Sabarimala stand-off.

The Pinarayi Vijayan government has emerged as the real progressive party in the bargain and deserves kudos for the way it handled the crisis.

(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)