The Sabarimala Verdict

The Sabarimala issue has been going for many days and only in the past week we have heard the “landmark” judgement from the Supreme Court that women cannot be denied entry into the Temple under any pretences whatsoever. I have seen many diverse reactions to this issue coming from all corners. I have reserved from sharing my immediate reactions because I needed time to see how this plays out in the coming weeks, and I am still reserving my views. Despite that, I do have certain views I want to raise.

The Writ Petition for Sabarimala has been filed in public interest by a registered association of Young Lawyers. The have claimed that they are gender rights activists working in and around the State of Punjab, with a focus on issues of gender equality and justice, sexuality, and menstrual discrimination. Hailing from the Northern part of India, they may not totally be aware of the Keralite Hindus and their affiliation with Ayyappan Swamy. Clearly, they have not taken into consideration the majority consensus of women regarding their desire to visit the Sabarimala Temple. In fact, there are over 1,000 Ayyappan Swamy Temples in India, in which He is not in the form of Naishtika Brahmacharya. He is worshipped as a child at Kulathupuzha. He is worshipped with his consorts Pushpaka and Poorna in Achankovil. Hence, there are no similar restrictions on the entry of women in these Temples.

So how did the petitioners get the idea of filing a petition for this issue? In the SC judgement text that can be found online, we find that the Petitioners have stated that they learnt of the practise of restricting the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 years in the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala from three newspaper articles written by Barkha Dutt (Scent of a Woman, Hindustan Times; July 1, 2006), Sharvani Pandit (Touching Faith, Times of India; July 1, 2006), and Vir Sanghvi (Keeping the Faith, Losing our Religion, Sunday Hindustan Times; July 2, 2006). None of these writers and none of these petitioners have ever been to Sabarimala, neither will they go to Sabarimala Temple for Ayyappan Swamy’s darshan, now that the Supreme Court itself as debarred the women from entering the Temple. 

Feminists and activists for women’s rights conveniently forget one important point. They talk about the rights of women, and in today’s world, women have all the rights to do whatever they want. Having the “rights” to do something is one thing. But what about having the “qualification”? Which feminist or women’s rights activist has spoken about the qualifications of women to do what they must be allowed to do? That’s because the law does not care about qualifications. All it cares about is whether someone has the “right” to do something. Qualification is the concern of an individual. I may have the right to enter the Sabarimala Temple today, after the 28th September SC judgement, but whether I have the qualification to enter the sanctum of the Temple is an entirely different matter.

If you observe carefully, nowhere in Hindu scriptures does it say that “you should not” or “you should” do this or do that. The scriptures give clear instructions to attain specific goals, and then they also inform you on the consequences of following or not following those specific instructions. But nowhere would they dictate what should or should not be done. Hence, our scriptures are always not dogmatic in nature. Likewise, nowhere do the Sabarimala priests have said that women should not take the 41-day fast. They have taken into consideration the plight of menstruating women and their inability to observe the 41-days fast. Hence, they have prescribed a solution, which is to wait till they attain menopause, after which they are free to follow the 41-days fast to its completion and fulfil their vows satisfactorily. This is a prescription, not discrimination.

Now, the function of the courts and especially the Supreme Court, is to interpret the Constitution and to deliver a conclusion based on its interpretation of the Constitution. Their conclusion must be based on solid facts, hard evidence, and established case law. Hence, you will notice that their judgements usually run for hundreds of pages. It is not a simple verdict, as it must be backed with substantial matters of the law, case law and other relevant factors. The judges (except Justice Indu Malhotra) delivered a “secular” judgment on a “religious” matter. So what difference does this judgment make, when the sane and sensible women have taken a vow that they are #ReadyToWait till they attain the qualification to visit the Sabarimala Temple? Why was the PIL allowed to be taken up in the first place? Why wasn’t the PIL filed by women of the menstruating age from Kerala, having the desire to visit the Sabarimala Temple themselves? What right does the secular courts have to pass a judgment requiring religious interpretation?

Out of all this ruckus, I heard one voice of clarity and that was of Honorable Justice Indu Malhotra’s judgment. If possible, please read her judgement (page 336 onwards).

If one thing this judgment succeeded in doing was that it united the Hindu voice. I appreciate the legitimate reactions of the Hindus, be it when they agree with the judgment or when they disagree with it. To me, it doesn’t make any difference. Yes, I agree with the judgment, and despite that I know I will not go to Sabarimala Temple, because I feel I don’t deserve to go there, as a devotee. No, I disagree with the judgement, and I still would not go to the Sabarimala Temple. The Supreme Court’s pronouncement based on its crude interpretation of Hinduism and Hindu practices is not going to influence my tradition, my beliefs and my convictions about how rituals need to be followed. 

I’m still reserving my views, as I expect this judgment to open up more cans of worms. This precedent that they have set, can now be potentially applied to many other places of worship. Let’s wait and see.

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