Bindu Ammini had filed a plea as she was attacked for trying to enter the temple.

 

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court observation early this week that a “final word” is yet to be pronounced on the question of entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple has come as a face-saver to Kerala’s CPM Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. This remark by Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde came when senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for a woman devotee, Bindu Ammini, pointed out violation of the 2018 judgement and said her client was attacked for her bid to enter the shrine.

On 28 September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court, by a majority of 4-1 verdict, then hailed as historic, allowed women in the age group of 10-50 entry into the temple. Till then women of menstruating age were not allowed into the Sabarimala temple in the belief that Lord Ayyappa is a celibate god. If this time last year, the most auspicious pilgrimage season to the temple, the Kerala Police was under attack from Hindu fundamentalist organisations and believers alike for trying to “smuggle in” young women into the Ayyappa temple at the behest of the state government, now the police are criticised for not providing escort to those women devotees in the age group of 10 to 50 wishing to have a “darshan” at the temple.

This was because the ruling Left Front has backtracked from its earlier stand on the issue, citing “ambiguity” in the court’s 14 November judgement. On 14 November 2019, while taking up a host of review petitions against its 2018 ruling, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi had referred the pleas to a seven-judge bench, along with other contentious issues relating to women belonging to Muslim and Parsi communities.

On 14 November, the Court did not make any reference to its 2018 judgement. It is on this judgement that Bindu Ammini has now moved court, seeking clarity. Jaising said her client was attacked just outside the police commissioner’s office in Kochi, despite the fact that the 2018 judgement was not stayed on 14 November.

Clarifying that the issue has already been referred to a seven-judge bench for consideration, Justice Bobde said, “There is an order for a much larger bench to decide the matter. There is no final word as yet.” Still, this observation does not clear the doubts remaining in the minds of devotees belonging to both sides, those who want women to go and those who oppose the move. However, the bench agreed to list the woman devotee’s plea for hearing next week. “We will list the petition, along with the earlier petition, next week,” the bench said.

The ruling CPM may be to blame for this “utter confusion” prevailing on the issue in the state. It is now clear that the CPM, rather Chief Minister Pinarayai Vijayan, had rushed through with the court ruling last year, in the hope of capitalising on the Hindu vote bank. This political gamble boomeranged, leading to massive violence in the state, a steep fall in revenue of the temple.

Above all, by building a women’s wall, the government starkly divided Lord Ayyappa devotees. It took a massive setback in the general elections for the CPM to realise this folly, though still not ready to admit the same. But the damage it has done to the polity of the state has not been rectified. This was reflected in the attack on Bindu Ammini inside the police commissioner’s office complex by an alleged supporter of Hindu Helpline, an organisation affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

It is interesting that the same Pinarayi police that escorted Bindu Ammini and another woman into the temple on New Year’s Day, did not lift a finger against the attacker. The police not only were mute spectators to the incident, when chilli powder spray was used on the woman, the DGP of the state refused to comment on the incident stating the issue is in court.

Not a single political party, including the CPM, has condemned the attack. Instead, a minister in the Pinarayi Vijayan government, who has taken oath in the name of the Constitution of the country, in a sorry attempt at sarcastic humour, tweeted that the attacker should have had the common sense to use “Patanjali chilli powder for more effect”. No action has been taken against the Electricity Minister M.M. Mani. The victim’s plea to charge the assaulter with UAPA has fallen on deaf ears. Ironically, all these happened the day the nation celebrated 70 years of the adoption of the Constitution.

State Law Minister A.K. Balan, while insisting that there is “lack of clarity” in the apex court’s 14 November decision has, in an interview to a local channel, ruled out the government seeking any clarification on the subject from the Court. “We would rather wait for the verdict of the seven-judge bench,” Balan told the interviewer last week.

Balan, a member of the central committee of the CPM, however, said there was no change in his party’s stand on the issue of young women’s entry into the Ayyappa temple. CPM has always claimed that for the party conviction and a consistent stand on issues are more important than number of votes. However, the popular belief in the state is that after the drubbing in the general elections, the “lack of clarity” in the SC ruling has come as a boon for the party.

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