With the Supreme Court taking up the review petition on Sabarimala the Communists are happy to take the bounty away amidst the chaos and uncertainty which has been unleashed.
The 4:1 majority decision of the Apex Court on 28th September 2018, which brought an end to an almost 12-year-old Public Interest Litigation on the entry of women to the famous Sabarimala Shrine has not only, unleashed a flood of controversies, but also has caused far-reaching repercussions in the socio-political milieu of Kerala. The Shrine has an ancient tradition of not allowing women between the age group of 10 to 50 to worship on account of a dictate from the deity; who is a ‘NaishtikaBramhachari’. There is no bar for the other women to worship in the temple. At the same time, all other temples of Lord Ayyappa, who is also the deity of Sabarimala temple are open to all women. Therefore, there is no absolute bar for admitting women as a class to the Shrine. Therefore, the classification of women on the basis of the biological phenomenon of ‘reproduction’ becomes a reasonable classification. Without a proper appreciation of history or looking to the various facets of belief, the Supreme Court has struck down Rule 3 (b) of Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship Rules, 1965. It could also be possible that the Apex Court was not properly appraised about the case, because of the fact that the Petitioner and the Principal Respondents were hand in glove before the court.
In this quiet land nestled in forests where Swami Ayyappa retired to meditate peacefully, the State Government seems more than enthusiastic to disrupt Swami Ayyappa’s meditation.
Whatever be the reason, no doubt the Judgment is an eloquent example of handiwork by pedantic technicians in Judiciary who could not apply their mind to the hard reality of the issue at hand. Such technicians were condemned by Late Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer years back. However, the legality of the judgement is not the subject matter of this article, but the reference to the judgement could not be avoided. Not only the petitioners, in this case, were ignorant of the concept of a deity in Hinduism but also had shown neglect to the nuances of the temple tradition. In the garb of activism, the nuances of the tradition were set aside as discriminatory in nature. However, there are various judgements by the Apex Court terming the deity as a Juristic person who can be vested with legal rights and thus the temple is the property of the presiding deity. Not only the judgement has ignored the temple tradition but has also shown a lack of understanding of Dharma by equating it with Abrahimic faiths whose cosmology and theology deems a God who is constantly outside the cosmos and not a part of this earth. Thus, not only there has been a neglect of traditions but it also amounts to killing the diversity within Hinduism by imposing western notions of gender equality in the Indian context. It would be apt to note here that there are temples in Kerala like BhagavathyAmmal Temple where women exclusively worship on certain special occasions and men are prohibited. However, it would be a great diversion if we were to dive into theology at this point.
There is hardly any section of the society in Kerala which is happy with this judgement of the Apex Court. Even professed secularists like MP Shashi Tharoor has expressed that they are torn apart by this judgement. However, the Government of Kerala seemed to be extremely happy with the decision. It spared no time in declaring that, it would forthwith execute the judgment. But what is there in this Judgment to execute? Did the Supreme Court said that the Government must secure the entry of a specified or unspecified number of women to the Shrine and to report compliance? Absolutely no. Then what should the Government do? It has to make basic infrastructure and other facilities to cater to the need of the women who might come taking advantage of the judgment. The question of entry or non-entry to the temple should have been left to the wisdom of the individual devotees. The incidents that took place during the period when the Temple was opened for ‘monthly pooja’ in October 2018 were really shocking and casting doubt on the role of the Government in this entire episode. Unbiased people started asking that what was the need of bringing activists who were not devotees and escort them to the holy Shrine? Eyebrows rose when two non-devotee females were escorted by a force of about 200 to 300 Police personnel led by two Inspector Generals of Police. The adamant stand of the Government in this issue and the security arrangement made during those days and the virtual conversion of the Holy Shrine and the adjoining hill areas to a near battlefield by deploying 15000 police personnel in the festival season which began on 17th November cannot be viewed without suspicion. No religious place has seen such kind of state action on religious places other than the Golden Temple. The police have mistaken pious devotees to be hardened criminals and thus the crackdown on devotees. The police action was not just restricted at the base camps but also reached the Sannidhanam. In this quiet land nestled in forests where Swami Ayyappa retired to meditate peacefully, the State Government seems more than enthusiastic to disrupt Swami Ayyappa’s meditation. Recent incidents have seen the police even stop devotees from chanting AyyappaSarana slokas. Is not a religious place meant to chant slokas and do other acts of piety or is it just a museum to be seen with no noise made?
The question that arises is why the Government is making all-out efforts to force the entry of women into the temple and has shown much more vigour and strength to implement this order like no other.
The crackdown on devotees is not only selective but also arbitrary. It is not as if Kerala Police is always keen on implementing Law and Order and taking coercive action on subversive elements in society. Recent events have brought to the notice of the whole world how Muslim youths of Kerala are radicalized to join the war in the Middle East on behalf of ISIS. Only if the State Government had focused their time and energies on nipping terrorism in the bud such events would not have unfolded. Rather than addressing Islamic terrorism in the state the Finance Minister of the State Thomas Isaac termed Ayyappa devotees as terrorists.
The poignant question to be asked here is whether the Left Democratic Front Government in Kerala opposed to the Sabarimala shrine? Or is it just political posturing? Or is the government really keen on implementing the Sabarimala order as the judgement laid down by the Supreme Court is the law of the Land?
Even though communists boast of their secular credentials and regard religion as opiate why are they so keen on administering only Hindu temples and properties which are directly linked to religion, faith and the worship of a deity. Is it because the Indian Left has piety towards Dharma, certainly not. The only reason why an overtly atheistic government administering temples and religious places of Hindus with an iron fist in Kerala is for the funds which are received as donations from devotees. Temples of Kerala are famed for their wealth and even though Devaswom(meaning property of Deva) boards administer the temples the wealth is not regarded as that of Deva but is used for purposes other than that pertaining to religion. Therefore, the state continues to administer Kerala temples as it is a source of revenue for it. However, the question that arises is why the Government is making all-out efforts to force the entry of women into the temple and has shown much more vigour and strength to implement this order like no other.
The answer to this question lies in the recent floods that shook the economic edifice of Kerala in the month of August 2018. It might appear to be an indigestible dialectical proposition. But my recent visit to the State and the discussion with the people at the grassroots level was a curtain raiser and an eye-opener to certain serious and shocking plots which are being executed behind the curtain.
The CPM workers are the real beneficiaries of the relief fund at the cost of the actual disaster affected persons.
The unprecedented floods and associated natural calamities on account of the heavy rains which lashed the State of Kerala since 15th August 2018 has caused an estimated damage of Rs. 4000/- Cr to property and left about 500 people dead and many others missing. The vibrant Kerala diaspora wasted no time in reacting to this calamity and help in the form of material and funds poured in. The determination to overcome the disastrous effect of nature’s fury was supported by people, organizations and Governments from different parts of the world. Relief materials and money flowed to the State at a pace faster and more forceful than the flow of water during the flood. The ‘Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund’ received unprecedented contribution and within 15 days, it received more than Rs. 1200 Cr. On 18th August, the Prime Minister granted an amount of Rs. 500 Cr in addition to Rs. 562 Cr granted earlier by the Union Government. The Government was also wise or cunning in not opening an escrow account for this purpose and using the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Contribution to the Fund is still flowing and the distribution from the fund to the beneficiaries is also in progress. It is in this backdrop that the Supreme Court decision came. It is understood from the people at the grassroots level that there have been large-scale highhandedness and corruption in distributing the relief fund. The fund has not reached the actual beneficiaries. Many of the affected persons are paid only a meagre amount of Rs. 10,000/-. There are widespread complaints that the fund is being distributed as per the list prepared and submitted by Communist Party of India (Marxist). The CPM workers are the real beneficiaries of the relief fund at the cost of the actual disaster affected persons. If the details of the persons who received monetary benefits from the fund is collected from panchayat and wards of the affected districts and their connection with CPM and its leaders are analyzed it would be the biggest political scam the state has so far witnessed. Thus, it is an unholy and vicious nexus that has emerged between the CPM and the Government of Kerala in misappropriating the relief fund. This is not the first time that an attempt has been made to misappropriate disaster relief funds. Earlier CM Pinarayi Vijayan was accused of using Rs. 8 lakhs from State Disaster Response Fund for a private chopper ride. Thus, there is not just misappropriation of funds on display but also contempt and lack of empathy towards the very notion of addressing natural calamities.
The Sabarimala protests are a blessing in disguise for the CPM government of Kerala. As the state is embroiled in frequent clashes between the state machinery and devotees the whole attention has shifted from the funds collected for disaster relief alleviation to the Sabarimala protests. There are no pertinent issues raised or questions asked regarding the total amount collected for disaster relief, the disbursal of the amount and the beneficiaries of the relief fund. It is an unprecedented event in the history of Kerala’s polity that the major opposition forces both intellectually as well as politically namely the Congress and the BJP have come together for the first time express their anguish over the implementation of the Supreme Court order. The proactive action on the Sabarimala front has derided the political vigilance on the disaster relief fund. Vigilance and seeking accountability is one of the most important functions of an opposition party in any parliamentary democracy. With this being amiss the CPM is happy to pocket the funds meant for disaster relief as there is no chance of an immediate auditing of the fund. This amounts to a great financial irregularity. But secularism in the Indian context has always been used as a subterfuge for other nefarious activities. In the garb of implementing the Supreme Court order even when there is palpable discontent amongst the masses is a diversionary tactic of the CPM. As the protests have reached a point of no return with there been no chances of reconciliation between the Government and the devotees and the Supreme Court taking up the review petition the Communists are happy to take the bounty away amidst the chaos and uncertainty which has been unleashed.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.