Why the SC verdict on Sabrimala is flawed

By Vivek Agnihotri

#Sabrimala has nothing to do with gender equality. It’s about tradition and rituals.

As long as a ritual doesn’t hurt anyone else’s interests, health, finances and life, it should be acceptable to all.

In Indian weddings, there is a tradition of Mahila Sangeet. Any man who wants to sneak in is ridiculed and thrown out by the women. Can men go to the head of the family and seek equality? No. Because it’s a custom which doesn’t hurt anyone.

But if some foreigner or colonised person goes to the court and seeks gender equality in this case, he could well win the case.

Hinduism gives utmost respect to women and worships goddesses. Almost all villages in India have a goddess as their deity. The age restrictions on menstruating women in Sabrimala are neither gender discrimination nor is it about ‘impurity’. There are many temples where bleeding goddesses are worshipped without anyone ever raising questions: Kamakhya in Assam, for example.

Sabrimala is the abode of Naishtika Brahmachari, who has vouched not to see women of ages from 10 to 50 years of reproductive age groups. We must not forget that legend has it that the local feminine deity, Malikapurathamma, leads the queue of prospective female wooers of the deity. Lord Ayyappa, so goes the belief among the believers, has promised to marry Her if there were no first-time Sabarimala pilgrims in any year: something that has yet to happen.

This is not out of his discrimination. It is His sworn celibacy. It’s the respecting of his wish that the women between ages 10 to 50 do not go to the temple.

Our justice system and Constitution are based on a western binary system. But India is too complex a country than what West can ever decode. Those who want to equate Sabrimala judgement with Sati pratha or caste discrimination do not understand that those were social evils, whereas Sabrimala is a ritualistic issue.

When the devotees do not want to enter the temple why should some politically driven activists force themselves into their affairs? Those who want to equate triple talaq with Sabrimala must understand that while triple talaq was a social evil and puts a woman open to oppression by men, Sabrimala is a temple tradition and doesn’t oppress anyone. Anyone who doesn’t believe in temple rituals has the freedom to not go there and choose other temples which satisfy religious needs of the devotee.

Anyone who is a devotee of Sabrimala will not break rituals, but what is difficult to understand is why would anyone who is not a devotee go to Sabrimala when it is strictly a place of devotion and not tourism?

Anyone who is rooted in the Indian consciousness can understand this simple logic that Hindu rituals are as per the deity. Every deity is a person with Her/His own rituals. Even the Constitution provides for it. The temple is Her/His home and it is Her/His wish who should be allowed and who should be restricted.

Don’t we have different rituals for Shani and Hanuman?

Now the question arises who has a problem with this?

  1. Non-believers: If you look at the profile of the people who went to the Supreme Court with the plea and those who wanted to enter after the temple opened up, it is very easy to deduce that none of them were devotees of Lord Ayappa. It’s logical to ask whether they were politically motivated or if provoking others’ faith and traditions is any of their business.
  2. Communists: Kerala has a communist government. After 2014, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has made some inroads into Kerala and that’s what has been rattling anti-Hindu communists. There have been widespread killings of RSS workers. Is Sabrimala a good opportunity for them to settle scores with RSS?
  3. Judicial activism: A secular state mustn’t interfere with religion. Religion and its rituals are never binary, but the western prism is always about an either/or society. Since our judiciary is rooted in a colonial mindset it rejects the nuances of religion. Judiciary’s duty is to settle matters which are binary in nature: for example, matters related to money, land, marriage, et cetera. Since the Constitution is open to interpretation, mostly it is interpreted from a western/colonial prism and never from the ancient civilization’s point of view. In Indian thought, dharma has an absolutely different meaning whereas in the West it means only religion. Judiciary could use activism without caring whether laws are implementable or not. Recently, the Supreme Court passed a judgement saying no liquor shop can be in a 500-metre vicinity of highways. It was un-implementable and remains redundant. The SC passed a judgement stating no religious festivities can cross a bearable decibel level, specially Azaan. But one can hear blaring Azaan on loudspeakers everywhere in the country day. The judgement remains redundant. Several judgements sound great on paper but are absolutely impractical in the Indian context.
  4. Urban Naxals: Urban Naxals have, on a continuous basis, invested huge sums and time in social, cultural and legal activism to damage the basic fabric of Hinduism. They have invested in creating doubts and a fake awareness about revolting against set traditions by infiltrating the education system. To destroy Hinduism is one of their main political objective. This is why they keep mentioning irrelevant Manuwad and distorted definitions of Brahmanism with the intent of portraying Hinduism as dogmatic and discriminatory as compared to other Abrahamic religions without realising that there is no single book, God or ritual which qualifies one to be a Hindu. They know very well that Indian temples were not just places of worship but also places of spiritual congregation. Temples are like town halls from where one builds and administers community schools, ashrams, old-age homes and organisation of socio-religious festivities. Urban Naxals know it very well that without destroying the establishment of temples they can never break Hindus and without which they can’t get hold of the Indian state. Urban Naxals exploit religious sentiments for their ulterior motive of taking over the Indian state by dividing the Hindu society and, therefore, spark off a civil war.
  5. Conversion agencies: This is no hidden secret that a lot of foreign funding flows to missionaries who have been known to use it to convert poor Hindus to Christianity. There are umpteens of reports on this issue. It’s important to mention here a case of 1950: on 16tth June, 1950, an FIR related to arson at the Sabrimala temple was lodged by the commissioner and the president of the Devaswom Board with the Inspector General of Police. According to the FIR, the priest, Santhikaran, closed the temple on May 20, 1950 to be opened in the month of Malabar in June when there was going to be a 5-day pooja. The report says that for 10-15 miles there is no habitation around the temple. When on June 14 Santhikaran opened the doors, he found that Sreekovil (Sanctum Sanctorum), the Mandapam and the store room completely gutted by fire and the idol damaged. A kerosene lantern was found. Deputy Inspector general of Police K. Kesavan was given the job of investigation and after a thorough and long investigation he came to the conclusion that “the motive of the crime brought out during the investigation being religion and Christians being responsible for the offence, any information or clue leading to the detection was an impossibility and as much as all the routes leading from are in majority inhabited by Christians. The surrounding estate owners are also Christians”.

Now the question that is being raised is whether faith and traditions can supersede law. Then the question also arises who is the law for if not for the people with faith. Non-believers are also believers. Why is it that the courts still follow traditions laid out by the British? If law is supreme then India should have continued living under the laws of British. But it was the faith of millions of people who turned around laws. Laws are there to protect collective beliefs because these collective beliefs form a bigger mass of faith, the faith which keeps societies bound and also moves mountains.

Judiciary’s foremost duty is the protection of that faith, which is provided in our Constitution.  It’s unfortunate that a case involving women with faith was judged by a male-dominated Bench with the only woman judge dissenting against the judgement. The courts seem determined on reforming Hindus.

Going to a place of worship is a matter of devotion. To express devotion, devotees follow the rituals as prescribed by the Deity. If one starts putting an individual’s rights, who is not even a devotee, above the rights of a deity, then the question must be asked, why worship Him at all?

In the case of Sabrimala, I believe, the interpretation of the Supreme Court is flawed and against the grain of Hindu faith and the religious freedom as defined by Dr BR Ambedkar, the founder of Indian Constitution.

Vivek Agnihotri is a filmmaker and the author of #1 bestseller ‘Urban Naxals’.

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