Kerala BJP ups the ante on law to protect Sabarimala traditions

Sabarimala Dharma Shastha Temple

Going against the stand taken by central leaders like Subramanian Swamy, the state chief of Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala has issued a call for the government to restore the ban on the entry of young women to Sabarimala temple.

The move comes in the wake of days of agitations and massive rallies in the state against the decision by the Supreme Court to lift the ban on women entering the temple.

The hill-top pilgrimage center — dedicated to Dharma Shastha (The Giver of Dharma) and located in the middle of a thick forest — has traditionally been a no-go area for women between 10-50 years of age.

The matter was taken up by the Supreme Court after a Delhi-based group of advocates filed a case alleging gender discrimination at the religious site.

The prohibition on young women’s entry is similar to the ban imposed by Buddhists at some of their monasteries, with historians pointing to the similarities between the customs of the temple and Buddhist practices to trace the origin of the custom. They argue that Dharma Shastha is no one but the Buddha.

The trip to the temple requires the observance of 41 days of ‘Mandala vows’, which includes extremely ascetic practices like not using footwear, not shaving or trimming one’s hair, not speaking in anger, abstinence from sex, wearing only black clothes and barefoot trekking through the jungle for kilometers.

In the Supreme Court, the supporters of the temple traditions argued that the temple was not part of Vedic Hinduism, but of the Tantric tradition — an amalgamation of Buddhist and non-Buddhist practices.

In a 4:1 judgment, the Supreme Court refused to accept the arguments advanced by the traditionalists, and asked the Kerala government to ensure the safety of the women who turn up at the pilgrimage center for admission.

Prayar Walk @ Kottarakkara#Save_Sabarimala_Campaign

Posted by Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple on Friday, 12 October 2018

Even though the BJP was initially lukewarm towards the demands of the devotees — lest it be seen as anti-women — the party has increasingly take a pro-tradition stand in recent days, particularly after the Congress Party jumped in with unconditional support to the agitators.

The NDA is even leading a multi-day ‘yatra’ to uphold the customs.

“Protect Sabarimala,” state BJP chief Sreedharan Pillai urged at the culmination of rally today. “Protect devotees’ beliefs.”

The BJP has so far been careful to focus all its fire on the state government for its refusal to join the review petition filed by a host of organizations in the matter.

However, Pillai said mere review petition was not enough.

He said “the government” should “take an initiative” to protect the customs, without specifying what initiative he had in mind or which government he was referring to.

“Lakhs of ladies are on the streets for such a demand. The Hindu ladies of Kerala are having such a belief and the belief has to be protected. The constitution demands the protection of the fundamental right of faith and religion,” he added.

The move is likely to add pressure to demands that the central government, controlled by the BJP, should issue an ordinance to restore the conditions that existing before the court ruling.

It is also in stark contrast to the stand taken by leaders like Subramanian Swamy, who has urged the center to use the army if necessary to clear the roads for women pilgrims.

The pilgrimage center is set to open for five days later this week for monthly pooja. Devotees have said they will ‘lie down on the roads’ to prevent women from ‘desecrating’ the holy site.

Asked what plans of action the BJP had for the future, Pillai said: “That devotees will decide and we will support any reasonable cause.”