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Thursday, October 25, 2018

The political and social impacts of save Sabarimala campaign in Kerala

Will the battle to ensure entry to women of all age groups in Sabarimala turn out to be CPM’s Waterloo?

Save Sabarimala campaign held by devotees of Sabariamala temple in Kerala recently to protect customs of the temple has thrown up many surprises. A well planned brutal effort of Government of Kerala to implement the order of Supreme Court of India (SC) allowing entry to women of all age groups in the temple failed disastrously in the first round. Though the left Government wanted Kerala society to discuss the inequalities in Hinduism and need for reformation, they ended up exposing their alleged discriminatory acts against Hindu temples. Though Sabarimala issue was expected to weaken BJP and RSS it did not happen. On the contrary, CPM has yielded new ground to Sangh Parivar in Kerala to further their goals. Normally public discourse in Kerala is controlled by leftists. But this time Hindutva forces took control of it.

Despite Kerala government’s effort to implement the SC order, no real woman devotee turned up at the temple to pay obeisance to Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity. If there is anybody with some sense in the ruling communist party of India (Marxist) they should think whey even their women cadres did not use the court given opportunity to visit Sabarimala. Though some self-proclaimed women activists (mostly non Hindus) tried to enter the temple under heavy police protection, they had to beat a hasty retreat following peaceful protest by well determined devotees. (Sabarimala allows entry to Ayyappa devotees irrespective of their religion provided they perform the mandatory rituals prior to entry)

Moreover, the move of CPM led government resulted in thousands of devotees, especially women coming out on the streets to protest which baffled political parties, media and self-proclaimed social and political pundits/advisors. CPM could not organize a single public meeting or march matching the devotee protests supporting the government decision. Thus for the first time in Kerala, Communist Party of India (Marxist) ie CPM who always boasted about their strength as reformers and muscle power at the streets has been convincingly defeated on the streets by those who argue for status quo.
The normally meek Hindus of Kerala who always strive to be politically correct even at the cost of their beliefs and traditions mustered up enough courage to say at the face of Communists that ‘we will protect the customs of Sabarimala at all costs.’ This has left many politicians nodding their heads in unbelief. The movement can be considered as a watershed in the social and political history of Kerala because those who upheld their beliefs in the public are likely to repeat in many other issues and political parties will have to accommodate them.

Why Hindus revolted
Why Hindus of Kerala revolted against SC order allowing women of all age groups temple entry? Has Kerala society transformed to an obscurantist group?
The answer is, for courts and left politicians the issue in Sabarimala is  equality among men and women but for devotees it is a totally different issue. They don’t consider Sabarimala temple as a place where inequality is practiced and perpetuated. On the contrary, Sabarimala temple is a place where people of all castes and religions enter and worship God. Sabarimala is the place of complete equality, if there is any such place in the world. Even before Marxism was born the idea of equality was practiced in Sabarimala. Sabarimala is the only place of worship on the earth where each devotee is addressed by the name of God.

Devotee becomes Lord Ayyappa
Every devotee who decides to go on pilgrimage to Sabarimala is addressed as Ayyappa once he starts wearing the string of tulsi beads and blue or black clothes which he removes only after returning from the temple. It means he has become a part of God. It also signifies that devotees of Ayyappa are equal irrespective of caste, creed or nationality and are part of God itself. At the temple the Upanishadic verse Thatvamasi is written meaning ‘Thou art That.’ Every devotee of Lord Ayyappa who enters Sabarimala realizes that he/she is God and returns as an enlightened person. (at least theoretically)
Projecting Sabarimala as a place of inequality just because women between ages of 10 and 50 are denied entry is viewed by devotees as a design of vested interest groups to malign the sanctity of the greatest place of worship of Hindus of South India. Every institution works on the basis of regulations. Will a district committee member of CPM be able to participate in politbureau discussions? He cannot. There is age restriction in India to become governor or president. Do they mean discrimination. The answer is certainly not. Discrimination and regulation are different. Moreover, CPM which fights for women’s rights has not appointed a woman CM in Kerala ever. The party never had a woman state secretary or national general secretary. When a party which does not practice what they preach tries to forcefully implement ideas, it may not succeed.

Emotional and spiritual connect
Lord Ayyppa is to South Indians what Lord Ram is to North Indians or Lord Krishna is to people of Western UP or Gujarat. People from Telengana, Karnataka, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala arrive at the temple by lakhs and crores. Some walk the entire distance from their home to Sabarimala shrine braving harsh weather and forests. Some estimates say annually around 50 million pilgrims visit Sabarimala. The devotees of Sabarimala include people from all walks of life. At present even people from North India and foreign countries like Malaysia and Singapore come to Sabarimala.
It seems the communists of Kerala have miscalculated the influence of the temple and thought their rhetoric of reforms and progressive ideas will help them to bulldoze the age old customs and give some political mileage to a party which is dying everywhere else in India. However Hindus of Kerala who have been repeatedly battered in the name of Secularism and Reformation have already reached the breaking point and Sabarimala issue turned out to be the straw that broke the backbone of the camel. That is Hindus who have been fed up with the discrimination shown by Kerala government at their centres of worship finally revolted.

Sabarimala is a wrong battle field for communists
An intelligent general always choses a battle field where he has some advantage. But by deciding to fight the power centres of Hinduism at Sabarimala, Comrade Vijayan has chosen a wrong battle field because that is the temple that unites all Hindus of Kerala. In fact, different Hindu castes ranging from Adivasis, Scheduled Castes and OBC Ezhavas to upper caste Nairs revere as their most sacred place. All Hindus from SCs to Nairs used to go Sabarimala together and Sabarimala pilgrimage was a great leveling ground for Hindus who lived in different strata. The level of protest happened in Sabarimala issue would not have happened had Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan intervened in any other temple including Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple because those temples don’t have a history of uniting Hindus.

Aspect of reformation
The propaganda unleashed by the CPM that they are trying to reform customs at Sabarimala is not finding many takers. A move to reform outdated customs should have come from believers. Many outdated customs that once existed in Kerala temples were reformed because of social pressure and agitations from within Hindu society. In the issue of women entry at Sabarimala, no such demand has been made by devotees from Hindu society. The SC decision comes in a case filed by a group of lawyers who are non Keralites and were led by a non-Hindu. So the questions are who wants reforms? Why groups who are not devotees want reform at somebody else’s place of worship? Why Government is not taking initiative to reform gender based inequalities existing in Sunni Muslim mosques and Christian churches? In the age of information revolution Communists don’t have the monopoly of information which they once had in Kerala.

Failed effort to divide Hindus
Whenever Hindu unity happened in Kerala political parties have succeeded in destroying it. This time Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan tried to divide Hindus who took part in Save Sabarimala agitation by raising upper caste vs lower caste theme. He even made SNDP leader Vellappally support the divide. But this time Hindus of Kerala dismissed Pinarayi’s arguments with contempt. Gone are the days when upper castes and lower caste Hindus in Kerala went to war obeying the sermons of political crooks. Everyone knows Brahmin supremacy is over. A few thousand Brahmins in Kerala are struggling for survival. Now Hindus in Kerala know unity is essential for their survival. In many Hindu temples in Kerala non Brahmin priests are doing poojas and upper castes have accepted them wholeheartedly.  Pinarayi’s telling the lie of Brahmin supremacy sounds like a joke. Kerala’s Hindu Youth are more united and are proud of their identity unlike their parents and grandparents who allowed themselves to be misled by leftists.

Earlier, communist leaders like A K Gopalan had led struggles to reform temple customs. But Pinarayi is no AKG. Present day leaders of Kerala CPM lack the image of AKG as men of integrity and sincerity. It is unlikely that even communists will accept Pinarayi’s claims to the throne of AKG. Pinarayi’s all-out war against Sabarimala traditions may cost CPM dear in Kerala, its last stronghold. Some traditions have to die. This time it seems it will be the communist tradition of Kerala.