The right of ordinary women to have a peaceful darshan of Lord Ayyappa remains elusive. There seems to be a deeper political conspiracy to prolong the crisis.

 

NEW DELHI: Even after hundred days and the presence of two women of menstruating age at Lord Ayyappa’s abode at Sabarimala, the right of ordinary women to have a peaceful darshan of the “eternal celibate” God remains elusive. Claims and counter-claims in the name of women and their rights are being made by the hour by all and sundry in the state, while political parties make use of them for electoral gains. So far, the ruling Left, CPM to be precise, seems to have surged ahead of the BJP/RSS combine and the Congress in this race. Day in and day out, it is Sabarimala in the state. In these 100 days, the Chief Minister or his ministers have seldom spoken on anything other than the temple issue. Ditto with leaders of all other political parties, the only contention being who is more vocal on the subject. The state has so far witnessed nearly ten shutdowns, most called by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, with of course many more to come. Millions of women, age no bar here, have also been paraded on the highways of the state. Hundreds of organisations of devotees of Lord Ayyappa, spearheaded by the BJP, brought lakhs of women and children holding the “Ayyappa Jyothi” event, covering the entire stretch of the state on 26 December. The ruling Left Front government went one step ahead by sponsoring a “Wall of Women” on 1 January where over 50 lakh women took oath for what nobody clearly knows. But it was hailed as a “world event” and a spectacle unseen so far. Meanwhile, the “Mandala Puja”, the most auspicious pilgrimage time to Sabarimala, is coming to a close. However, there is no hopeful sign that the issue will die down even after the temple shuts for a longer period since the Supreme Court is set to take up a bunch of review petitions by the end of this month.

Just a few hours after the disbanding of the Wall of Women, the government managed to engineer the entry of two women of child-bearing age into the temple by the backdoor, which has practically stumped the Opposition and shocked millions of devotees. The two women, aged 40 and 42, entered the temple early Wednesday morning. Video footage at the sanctum sanctorum shows that the two making the entry through the VIP gate on the northern side at 3.48 am and taking leave from the front of the temple at 3.50 am. They did not climb the 18 steps, which is the traditional route that all other devotees take. “We did not enter the shrine by climbing the 18 holy steps but went through the staff gate,” one of the women was quoted as saying. This leaves a devotional question as to the genuineness of their darshan of Lord Ayyappa. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was the first to confirm their entry. “It is a fact that women had entered the temple…The government would continue to provide security to women seeking to worship at Sabarimala as per the Supreme Court order,” he told newspersons. But high drama followed. The temple priests, apparently without consulting the Devaswom Board, which controls the shrine, closed the sanctum sanctorum for an hour to carry out “purification” ritual. While this act brought ire from the Communist dispensation, devotees applauded the act. BJP state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai said Chief Minister Vijayan had betrayed Lord Ayyappa devotees and warned that “Hindu social organisations, including the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, would react strongly”. Leader of the Opposition, senior Congressman Ramesh Chennithala said that “non-believers have conspired to destroy faith.” Strong sentiments indeed!

But what followed was mayhem. The bandh called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi saw large-scale violence. What was alarming was the fact that while the police had failed to anticipate such reaction from the believers, CPM cadre openly took on the protesters at many places. If the police and the government had clandestinely undertaken the entry of the two women into the temple, they should have without fail anticipated that protest would follow. Here both the government and the police have failed miserably. This is not the first time the police have failed to protect the interests of the common man. Pinarayi Vijayan as Home Minister cannot get away by simply saying that “fascist forces” are out to disrupt peace in the state. His elected government has the responsibility to see that the common man’s life is not under threat. Sadly, that is not happening. The government is simply sitting back and saying that the people would soon realise who the real culprits are. There seems to be a deeper political conspiracy to prolong the crisis as long as possible. The CPM may be hoping to wear out the opponents in the long run. But the state will have to pay a heavy price for that. It is astonishing that the government or the opposition no more talks of building a New Kerala, which was their pet subject in the aftermath of the deluge last August. Instead, the state is bogged down with the Sabarimala issue and still hasn’t provided women a decent opportunity to pray at the Ayyapppa temple. Smuggling women through the backdoor to the shrine is not going to solve the problem. It will only escalate it. The state is experiencing that.

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