Women will drive Ayyappa away, but not violence?

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 22, 2018 11:48 hrs
Shiv Sena threatens mass suicides if women enter Sabarimala

In the first few days of the Sabarimala temple opening its doors, for the first time since the Supreme Court removed the restrictions on the entry of women, the “faithful” have done all they can to remove every vestige of decorum from the temple – they have manhandled women, they have stopped vehicles on the roads and conducted unauthorized searches, the priest has threatened to close the doors of the temple as if it were his personal domain.

The Supreme Court’s judgement on the matter need be of no consequence.

State governments have rarely respected the judiciary when the vote banks seem unhappy. Just as the Tamil Nadu government circumvented the apex court’s ban on the barbaric jallikattu with an ordinance, so can the Kerala government ensure that Lord Ayyappa is sheltered from the dangerous influence of nubile women who could be a threat to his celibacy.

But what can the state do about devotees who take matters into their hands with contempt for the law as well as the courts?

First, politicians restricted themselves to threats. The Shiv Sena in Kerala declared its members would commit mass suicide if women entered Sabarimala, and then appeared to realise it had only offered liberals what they would consider a win-win situation.

Then, the faithful threatened riots and homicide.

They have come close enough. Women have joined the male protesters, dragging other women out of buses and processions. It is a literal version of a similar display in cyberspace with the #MeToo movement – women undermining each other, attacking those who stand up for equal rights, disparaging them, accusing them of perverting the course of nature and justice.

The “faithful” believe the sanctity of the temple is under threat because women are being allowed to desecrate it.

Does violence, and violence against women particularly, not desecrate a place?

Less than a year ago, a child was raped, tortured, and murdered on the premises of a temple.

Do gods remain in the temples when the temples are tended by those who have no compassion?

Temples have broken with tradition multiple times over the centuries. Perhaps one of the reasons Hinduism has endured against the Abrahamic religions, unlike the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Nordic, and Andean faiths, is that it made itself adaptable.

There was a time when Dalits were not allowed to enter temples.

There was a time when animal sacrifice was considered essential to the worship of the gods who are believed to have created those very animals.

In India, and particularly in Kerala, caste and gender are closely related.

In 1936, the Maharaja of Travancore, Chitra Thirunal Balarama Varma, made a historic proclamation: that “based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration”, there would “henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our government”.

Part of the motivation for this declaration was that Dr B R Ambedkar’s temple entry struggle was at its prime. Ambedkar had been speaking of the casteism in the Manusmriti since 1927, and had often said that it was perhaps best for Dalits to leave Hinduism for religions which did not discriminate against them.

What religion can women find which does not discriminate against them?

Not Islam. Beyond the restriction on the entry of women in mosques and dargahs, the “faithful” were furious by the Supreme Court’s verdict against triple talaq.

Not Christianity. One only has to look at the treatment of Bishop Franco Mulakkal and of the nun who accused him of rape for evidence of gender inequality.

And now, in the state where women’s daring to wear blouses and cover their breasts was once seen as disrespect for tradition, the “faithful” believe Ayyappa will leave his hilltop abode if it is besieged by women between the ages of 10 and 50.

It does not seem to matter that even the birth of this deity was a gender bender, born as he was of Shiva and Mohini, an avatar of Vishnu.

With the fondness of the faithful for metaphors, one wonders whether they see the blinding rain at Sabarimala as the tears of the gods for the violence unleashed against female devotees.

Or, perhaps, they’re fonder of the line of thinking that blamed the Kerala floods on the prospective entry of women into Sabarimala.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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