With Friday's dramatic developments near the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala shrine, there are concerns if the temple is becoming a battleground for tokenisms.
Three women attempted to enter the shrine of Lord Ayyappa on Friday, culminating the sequence of events set off with the Supreme Court's landmark judgment that women in the age group of 10-50 are not legally barred from visiting the famed shrine in central Kerala jungles.
But none of them made it to the holiest of holies, the 18 gold-plated steps in front of the deity. That, of course, meant the Supreme Court order could not be implemented.
However, it looked as if the import of things lay a bit askance. The women who made a bid to enter the temple were not devotees, according to reports. One was a well-known rationalist, another a TV reporter and the third was an atheist free thinker who had led the 'kiss of love' protest in Kerala some years ago.
The rationalist had to abandon the bid in the plains several kilometers away from the temple in the face of popular protests. The journalist from Andhra, Kavitha Jakkal, and Kerala free thinker Rahna Fathima, were escorted by a posse of 300 heavily armed police to the mountain top. The women were also dressed in riot gear and were enveloped by the forces as they climbed the hill.
At the top, hundreds of faithful and the temple priests lay down on the narrow track, leaving the police little choice other than to abandon the bid or trample through the protesters' bodies.
Observing the sequence of events so far, one can only say that good sense prevailed on the part of the police. Obviously, the Inspector General of police on the scene, S Sreejith, showed more equanimity than the entire Kerala government leadership.
That's not to say that the state government had a right to repudiate the Supreme Court verdict. The court must be respected. But the CPI-M government was out to politically cash in the verdict right from the word go.
Scoring anti-Hindutva brownie points
BJP, the rising power in Kerala politics, opposed the verdict after an initial flip-flop. That gave the Communist government the only choice left -- to make sure the BJP plank was crushed. Scoring anti-Hindutva brownie points is the favourite sport of the Communists in Kerala. Unfortunately, they treated the Sabarimala issue the same way.
It seems the Kerala government badly wanted to make some women enter the temple. It's hard to believe they were in mortal fear of contempt of court. There are churches in Kerala, which have been locked out to a certain sect despite the Supreme Court passing a verdict. A haste similar to the one shown in the Sabarimala issue wasn't seen from the government's side.
This is NOT to mean that the verdict granting entry of women was wrong. The court verdict in fact opened a creaky window into the future, and was a great step towards ensuring true gender equality.
If the government wanted to take into account the sensitivities, it could have sought more time and moved a review petition in the court. It could have at least allowed the Dewaswam Board, the body that administers the temples, to move the petition.
Such a move would have assuaged the feelings of the devotees. If the Supreme Court turns down the review petition, no one can imagine the ferocity of the protests would stay the same. The temple trusts, various Hindu outfits, the family of the tantris, the Kerala opposition -- all wanted the government to file a review petition.
There's no reason to believe that the protests of the current intensity would have happened if the last legal recourse was also exhausted. It's hard to imagine the Ayyapa devotees of Kerala would have unleashed a violent campaign even after a review petition. Time would have healed some of the wounds and people would have gradually got around to the reality.
Today's developments show the CPM government was perhaps on an ego trip in its bid to outsmart BJP. The police top brass were asked, according to local reports, to make sure that the two women reached the holiest of holies today.
How couldn't the government use its (absent) right senses to prevent such a mockery at the shrine? Would they have erred in the eyes of the Supreme Court if they just prevented the self-professed rationalists storming into the temple?
Cathedrals turn into casinos
Everyone knew who the women were. They were not devotees. They were an atheist and a free thinker. One of them was a non-Hindu. They wanted to prove a point. The government used them as a token to prove its point. This was no spectacle of a Hindu woman devoted to Lord Ayyappa going to the shrine. This was sadly a scene where a holy religious place was subjected to downright sacrilege.
They and the Kerala government are not doing any service to the women's cause. They are, in fact, undermining it. They are not even doing justice to the spirit of the Supreme Court verdict. This is a spectacle of some dingbats with a sense of hollow moral superiority trying to ride roughshod over basic common sense.
Enforcing social changes through court verdicts is a tricky business. Enforcing changes in a religious code is even more a tricky business. And mixing politics in matters of utmost public importance is plain inanity.
But for that to be understood, there needs to be a government with balance of thought. If you put politics ahead of everything, you will end up making big mistakes.
Cathedrals turn into casinos as good sense is sacrificed at the altar of big-bore electoral politics.
(Opinions are the author's own)