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Two women make history, enter Sabarimala; priests 'purify' temple in response

Tanvi Dubey & Rekha Balakrishnan
2nd Jan 2019
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A day after 30 lakh women in Kerala - from Kasargod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south - came together in a massive Vanitha Mathil (or Women’s Wall) over 620 km, two women with police protection entered the Sabarimala temple in the wee hours today.

Despite the Supreme Court’s order in September allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine, no woman has been able to due to massive protests across the country. Until today.

According to news reports, 42-year-old Bindu from Koilandy and 44-year-old Kanakadurga from Angadipuram in Malappuram district, dressed in black, entered the temple this morning, around 3.45 am, under the protection of police officers. They used a side entrance, used by VIPs without climbing the pathinettam padi (or the 18 steps), directly in front of the sopanam and into the sanctum of the temple.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed this in a statement to the media. “In previous instances, women could not enter the temple due to protests. However, today, they might not have faced any protests and were able to enter.”

However, the euphoria and the celebrations were short lived. Following the women’s entry, the temple authorities closed the sanctum sanctorum for an hour for purification rituals, with the thanthri (or priest) saying that the rituals were necessary. This is in direct violation of the Supreme Court rule with some saying it would have “legal consequences”. The closing of the sanctum sanctorum has left lakhs of devotees waiting, say news reports.

More than the Supreme Court ruling, the Sabarimala issue has been a political talking point in more ways than one. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government has openly supported the Supreme Court decision, with the BJP vociferous in its opinion that age-old traditions should be adhered to.

Prominent among the protesting organisations is the Ayyappa Dharma Sena and its leader Rahul Easwar who was arrested and later released on bail for making inflammatory statements.

The HerStory team was in Kerala last week - in Kochi and Kannur - and the mood of the people was divided. While many believed that the Supreme Court should not infringe upon their beliefs and the temple’s traditions, it was heartening to note that there is a section that believes that the right to pray should not be decided on the basis of gender or age.

Many also recollected seeing women (between the ages of 10 and 50) peacefully praying at Sabarimala without any opposition or protest. It was only in 1991 that the Kerala High Court upheld the ban on entry of women, following a Public Interest Litigation.

The state has been polarised since the Supreme Court ruling, with protests often resulting in violence.

With the Supreme Court ruling and the state-sponsored support for the Women's Wall, the political agenda that different political factions are using is obvious. From the ruling party to the opposition, everyone has a view on the Supreme Court ruling. But it is also true that a number of people in Kerala, including men and women, are in its favour.

Meanwhile, social media is rife with reactions- from anger and agitation about women entering to others pointing out that the temple should not be closed for other devotees, with yet others saying that it is inevitable and women should be allowed because old traditions need to be changed.

In a country where women are worshipped as deities - as Durga, Parvati and Laxmi, the temple doing a shuddhi after women’s entry shows how deep patriarchy runs in society. With women devotees seeking their right to enter the temple and the resistance from priests, devotees, and political parties, Sabarimala is going to be in the news and will see divided views for a long time to come.

This needs to be a movement driven by women with the aim to change age-old traditions that keep women out than becoming an issue that political parties can use to further their agenda.

What is your take on this? What do you think about it?

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