Kerala govt’s flip-flop on Sabarimala: Won’t take young women to shrine

Shaju Philip
Temple not venue to exhibit activism: Minister. (File)

A day after the Supreme Court kept review petitions on the entry of women of all ages in Sabarimala on hold and turned to a larger bench, the Kerala government pointed to “grey areas” in the judgment and indicated that it is “not going to take young women to the temple”.

The latest stand is in stark contrast to the CPM-led government’s position last year when the Supreme Court had lifted the traditional bar on women of menstruating age from entering the temple.

Last year, the government had pushed firmly to implement the court order, while equating the entry of young women to the Left’s commitment on ensuring gender justice and protecting the renaissance traditions of the state. However, this move led to largescale protests that contributed to the Left alliance ending up with just one seat out of 20 in the Lok Sabha polls.

This time, the two-month annual Sabarimala pilgrimage season starts Saturday, and Hindu groups have again warned of protests if the bar on women is not adhered to. With local body polls coming up in a few months, CPM leader and Devaswom Board (Temple Affairs) Minister Kadakampally Surendran said it would be better to maintain the status quo that prevailed before last year’s verdict until the larger bench delivers a final order.

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“Everyone should cooperate with the government to make the pilgrimage a smooth affair. There are grey areas in the latest decision of the Supreme Court,’’ he said.

Asked about the government ensuring the entry of young women last year, Surendran said: “Last year, there was a verdict before us. Now, the situation has changed. This year, the government is not going to take young women to the temple. Sabarimala is not a place for exhibiting activism. If anyone (young women) wants to go to Sabarimala, let them come with an order from the Supreme Court,’’ he said.

CPM central committee member and Law Minister A K Balan echoed the view after a meeting of the party state secretariat, which is learnt to have weighed against taking young women to the temple.

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“The government will not give protection for young women who attempt to trek to the hill shrine. If someone arrives to make the situation worse, the government will not allow it,’’ Balan said.

Last year, scores of young women, including activists, attempted to visit the temple, although only two are known to have officially entered the shrine with police protection. The protests, meanwhile, caused heavy losses for the Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, with a Rs 200-crore fall in revenue, as devotees largely kept away fearing violence.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court concluded that its September 28, 2018 judgment lifting age restrictions on the entry of women may impinge on the affairs of other religions too and will require a more detailed examination. In a 3-2 decision, the apex court decided that petitions seeking review of the verdict will be kept pending till a larger bench of seven judges takes a call on the matter.