It is a matter of deep concern for a country when a Constitutional right upheld by the highest court of the land becomes the cause for a state under siege. India’s Sabarimala temple issue has turned into a lesson on how democratic conventions can be violated by politically expeditious agendas. Even as Kerala’s state government is doing its best to uphold the constitutional right of women to pray as per the Supreme Court verdict in September 2018, in this instance at the Sabarimala temple that had for decades banned the entry of menstruating women owing to socio-cultural beliefs, it is finding its intentions shredded by violence and bloodshed unleashed by protesters. One man has died and scores injured in the clashes that have erupted since two women in their 40s entered the temple on Wednesday. State universities have postponed exams and daily life stands disrupted in many areas.
Was this state of affairs inevitable? Opponents of the court’s verdict would want everyone to believe this as they protest about the violation of their entrenched and subjectivised traditions. But there is a greater violation occurring in Kerala that is a spreading stain on the democratic fabric of India — the flagrant dismissal of a Supreme Court order that reinstates the right of equal access to places of worship for women as per the Constitution of India.
It is clear that the frenzied reaction of the mobs, tutored by outfits that owe allegiance to right-wing ideologies, is less concerned with addressing issues of cultural sensitivity than it is with fashioning the perfect crucible for polarisation to take birth in. Who can miss the timing for its portents? After all, no one is unaware of the impending national polls in May and the Sabarimala temple fracas, while having its two sides to the story, is not exempt from being used as a pawn in the game of voter influencing.
There have been instances of other temples in India in recent times allowing women entry following court orders and here too, centuries-old socio-cultural beliefs held sway, but a nuanced approach by all parties concerned saved the day. The Shani Shinganapur and Triyambakeshwar temples in Maharashtra are great examples of how constitutional principles can be dignified despite tradition’s bid to thwart them.
The turmoil that has gripped Kerala over the last few days must, and should, cease. It would be the greatest irony if the world’s largest democracy cannot find a way to put an end to its own people abusing that democracy.