India is perhaps the only country in the world where its majority population’s matters of faith are often used for political purposes. Over the years, various parties have practised minority appeasement no matter what cost even if it meant hurting the religious sentiments of the Hindu community and the case of Sabarimala Temple is a further testament to this fact. However, it appears that Communist government has softened it stance on the Sabarimala issue. This may spring not out of innate respect for temple traditions but serious political compulsions.
As the temple opened on Saturday, Pinarayi Vijayan led government did a complete volte-face saying that it won’t support women activists going to Sabarimala. Over 10 women activists attempted to enter the temple’s sanctum sanctorum but they were escorted back by the same Kerala police which was hellbent on enforcing women’s entry through protesting devotees until some months ago.
The communist government in Kerala sought to play with the feelings of the Hindu community for which the party paid heavily in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls as it could win only one Lok Sabha seat in Kerala out of the 20 which went to polls. In what can be seen as a political compulsion,
The holy temple of Sabarimala found itself at the centre of controversy as activists with vested interests demanded that women be allowed entry into the rules of Lord Ayyappa. Lord Ayyappa is present in a celibate form at the temple as hence, it’s against the laws of the temples to allow the entry of women of age 10 to 50. The issue was soon turned into a ‘feminist’ issue by people with vested interests conveniently ignoring the fact that there are many temples in India where women are the dominating force and men are barred, like the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Kerala reflecting the complexity of Hindu traditions that transcend elementary concepts of gender equality.
Vijayan led CPI(M) led a state-sponsored campaign to desecrate the sanctity of the Sabarimala temple as through its tacit support in January, it was successfully able to infiltrate two women into the temple at 3:45 AM on January 2, 2019. Dressed in black and under the protection of the police, hastily, the women surreptitiously rushed through and reportedly “prayed” to Bhagwan Ayyappa before returning.
They faced no protests from devotees in that time of the night and caught devotees and temple priests by surprise with their secretive act. Prior to this incident, a young Muslim and a Christian woman had attempted to enter the shrine as devotees. One of them, Rehana Fatima attempted to violate the premises as she carried a used sanitary menstrual pad in the bag that pilgrims use to carry offering to Bhagwan Ayyappa, and later her Facebook posts were found to be highly derogatory and directed against Hinduism led to her arrest.
The Kerala police subjected the devotees to unwarranted brutalities and the deliberate desecration of the sanctorum Sanctorum of Bhagwan Ayyappa’s shrine, endorsed and aided by the Communist government made it awfully clear that the onslaught against the Hindu faith was real and politically motivated.
Kerala was shook with protests by devotees, however, the CPI (M) largely underestimated the level of unity that Sabarimala issue struck among Hindus. The Communist party was in for a serious dose of retribution.
After delivering a stinging defeat to the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha polls as it could only manage to muster a single seat of out of the 20 in contention. The well established Kerala Congress was the biggest beneficiary as it took a pro-tradition line as Kerala was the only state where it was able to gain seats.
It seems that political compulsion has forced the Communist party to change his stance owing to the Supreme Court judgement referring the Sabarimala case to a seven-judge bench. Fresh hearings by a larger bench would keep the political debate relevant and may harm the Communist government’s image for its stance. Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran has said that the state government is under no legal compulsion to provide protection to women’s activists who want to enter the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple this year.
The party’s Lok Sabha drubbing is just one of the reasons why it is completely changing its stance. Disillusioned with the Kerala government and the SC verdict, many devotees of the Lord Ayyappa decided against visiting Sabarimala during the mandala pooja or pilgrimage season. The events that took place at Sabarimala had a domino effect across the state as the state witnessed a huge drop in temple donations which ultimately lead to the income of the Devaswom boards that administer the temples register a sharp drop.
The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) that manages nearly 1,250 temples had its income pruned by over Rs 100 crore last year during the pilgrimage season which forced the board to avail of a Rs 30-crore bank loan this year to meet its expenses as it pledged its fixed deposits to avail of the loan.
Vijayan’s government received a stinging economic and political blow and this move is nothing but an exercise in damage limitation as with the tourist season fast approaching, the state cannot afford to lose out on tourists like last year as the widespread protests had a devastating impact on the state’s tourism industry. Vijayan’s government has desecrated the sanctity of the Sabarimala temple and no amount of appeasement can undo the damage caused by such a reckless act.