The Sabarimala verdict and the erupted protests
If you have been following South Indian news and media coverage, you definitely wouldn't have missed the recent verdict of the Supreme Court on Sabarimala. The order allowed the entry of women of all age groups into the temple. This was supposedly against the age old tradition barring entry for women of reproductive age into the temple.
Let me give a brief intro about the temple. The Sabarimala temple and the deity Lord Ayyappa may not be familiar to those from the northern parts of the country. But he is a revered deity in the south with annual footfall of around 20-30 million, peaking in the months of November to January. The deity is believed to be a celibate God and hence the tradition of barring entry to women of reproductive age.
But the days following the verdict of the apex court led to communalisation of the secular image of Kerala. The state which only recently recovered from the floods, celebrating the spirit of unity and brotherhood, soon got a communal tinge. Political parties too jumped in trying to make the most benefit out of it as the country moves into poll-mode.
But all ears were focused on the one question- Why a state like Kerala which boasts of its highly educated citizens didn't welcome such a move which could have led to greater women empowerment?
The answer might be in the way in which the reform was implemented. The court verdict followed the constitutional values which prevents discrimination on the basis of gender, guaranteed by Article 15. The court has all the rights to adjudicate cases on the basis of the constitution. Let us not discuss all that.
For a successful social reform, a mandatory requirement is that it should come from the people themselves. It is true that law can give a push. But for it to sustain, people have to take the lead. Be it the case of sati or child marriage, the major objections against banning those practices came from the society itself. It was only through the gradual process of awareness generation and sensitisation that such oractprac could be reduced and eliminated.
In this case, I believe that the government has the duty to execute the court order. But an elected government also has to take the people into confidence, as democracy hands power to the people. When large scale opposition arises from the people, the government should have conveyed the people's voice to the court which was not an elected body. This could have opened greater avenues for discussion and communalist forces wouldn't have got the space to survive.
Another point of conflict were the ill-prepared facilities and the ecosystem devastated by the floods. The government could have informed the court of its concerns related to women's safety as well as protection of the pristine ecosystem. This lack of foresight was also a major cause of concern highlighted during the protest meetings.
But in the long term, a reform in such a tradition is a welcome step towards greater equality and empowerment. For this to happen, the people should initiate a change in their own mentality. It is also important to focus more on God/reason and less on traditions. Religions should exist not to compete against one another. They should make the people embrace each other with more love than hatred. When peoples' mentality change, there would arise a society which would give equal opportunities to all with no negative discrimination. This could mean that the efforts of the government could proactively cater to the needs of the people.
Let us vouch for such a society, where diverse opinions find their space, where people unite to empower themselves with firm footing on Indian values and culture.