On the importance of the verdict and the duplicity of the two mainstream parties.
The Sabarimala verdict and related developments, including the violent agitations by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the facilitation to it provided by the Indian National Congress, have yet again underscored the multiple duplicities and double standards practised by the two mainstream parties of India. In one go, these developments have exposed the total disregard that these political organisations have for the Indian Constitution, constitutional values, the judiciary and its verdicts, the tenets of sexual equality and theological rationality and, above all, the very concepts of social reform. In the process, these two major political organisations have become pathetically apologetic symbols of the patriarchal hegemony and regressive conventions in Indian society.
Analysed objectively, the September verdict of the Supreme Court is an extremely important one, which has upheld constitutional values. The reaction of the two big parties to the verdict has gone through two stages. Initially the central leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) accepted the verdict. And it opined that the verdict should be welcomed by everyone. This meant that it understood the significance of the verdict. But, in a short while, political exigencies that are primarily driven by the urge to capture or retain the upper-caste vote took over both the organisations and they performed a political somersault.
The leadership of the Kerala State BJP even went to the extent of stating publicly that the issue and the public reaction—read upper-caste reaction—to it was a golden opportunity that should not be missed. As for the Congress leadership, it seems to believe that the aggressive manoeuvres of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar can be countered only by mouthing the very same regressive rhetoric paraded by them.
On the larger Hindutva game plan of the RSS-led Sangh Parivar.
However, the exploitation of a given political situation for electoral or organisational gains is not the only element ingrained in the violent campaign of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. They are at the same time using this to pursue their long-term agenda and target of communalising Kerala society. Right from the beginning, the RSS has not accepted even the basic tenets of the Constitution. The intent of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar leadership with regard to redrawing the Constitution according to Hindutva parameters has been expressed at many junctures and on many occasions. So, the concerted opposition to the Sabarimala verdict is in reality an assault on the constitutional values of India, in keeping with the larger Hindutva game plan. It is a game plan that strategises to consolidate Hindus on one emotive issue or the other, indeed with upper-caste leadership.
The Sabarimala verdict and the response to it from segments of the Hindu population in Kerala fit in a big way with these ideological, political, cultural and organisational requirements. The Constitution is based on a sense of equality. The basic idea of Hindutva is against sexual equality. Therefore they have no regard for constitutional institutions and the Sabarimala issue has explicitly proved that. At the same time, the agitations have also exposed the real character of the RSS to the larger public of Kerala.
In the past, diverse forms of Hindutva mobilisation of the Sangh Parivar have made their presence felt in different parts of India, including in the neighbouring State of Karnataka. The repeated assaults on a Sufi shrine in Karnataka and the near total control that the Sangh Parivar has got over it is a case in point. In all these activities you find an underlying idea that attempts to make Hindus feel as rabid, aggressive Hindus. In that, whatever the symbols they get they have used. Their governments in the States and at the Centre too have systematically promoted this game plan. You can see that in the government initiatives and steps during the last four years. Every one of them is directed towards achieving this objective, in parts. The name-changing of cities, the beef consumption controversies, the attacks on cow protection and so on have the stamp of obscurantist Hindutva stances. This religion-centred view is against the secular-centred view of the Constitution.
The Sabarimala issue is yet another manoeuvre in the same direction; it unravels the strategies the Hindutva forces are using to “Hinduise” the Hindu community in Kerala. Their aim is to “Hinduise” even the secular Hindus in the State. They would start by efforts to religionise the Hindus, and the next step would be communalisation.
On using the minority judgment for Hindutva political campaigns and the relevance of theological rationality.
The BJP-Sangh Parivar leadership, right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to BJP president Amit Shah, has taken recourse to highlighting the minority judgment of Justice Indu Malhotra, the only judge to give a dissenting verdict on the Sabarimala issue. The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in a 4:1 judgment, categorically said that the banning of the entry of women in the Sabarimala temple was gender discrimination and this practice violated the rights of Hindu women.
Justice Indu Malhotra argued: “Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion. What constitutes essential religious practice is for the religious community to decide, not for the court…. Issues of deep religious sentiments shouldn’t be ordinarily interfered into.”
But there is the concept of theological rationality too. I have argued that theological rationality when applied to theological matters changes religious practices within the theological discourse. There are ample examples of such changes across all religions. As is evident, the Sabarimala temple is a syncretic place of worship. The devotees are drawn from different religions and castes. There is nothing that prevents Christians and Muslims from going there. Vavar palli and Arthungal church are inextricable for the rituals of the Sabarimala visit. The devotees are from different religious affiliations. Therefore it appeals to different sections of people. Changes have always taken place when rituals and beliefs are questioned.
On the soft Hindutva of the Congress and its inherent dangers.
The Congress, too, seems to have no value for theological rationality and related precepts in spite of its Nehruvian secular traditions. In Kerala as well as in many other States it seems to be following a soft Hindutva policy and political path. This policy was originally started by the Rajiv Gandhi government in the mid 1980s through its ill-conceived shilanyas project for the Ayodhya Ram temple. It was exposed as an extremely counterproductive step then itself. Still, the Congress is persisting with it. This was evident even in the recent Assembly elections, such as the ones in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The leadership of the party should realise that the Congress is nothing if not for its liberalism. The Congress has a history. It has spearheaded social movements in the political sphere. The Congress was in the forefront of social movements in the colonial period. As of now its central leadership and State leaderships seem to have forgotten this, or at least seem to be in a state of deep and numbing confusion. This confusion is stark, especially in their positions on the Sabarimala issue. Rahul Gandhi welcomed this verdict. But, as you rightly point out, the majority of the Congress leadership in Kerala has even sought an ordinance from the BJP-led Central government to ban the entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala temple. At the same time it is opposing an ordinance to build the Ayodhya temple.
On issues of gender equity in Kerala.
In many ways, the Sabarimala situation is representative of the concerns of gender inequality and gender discrimination that are very deep-rooted in Kerala. I think Kerala society is still strongly patriarchal. The culture of Kerala is so patriarchy-oriented that women are sidelined or hidden and even those who work in significant official positions are subordinated to male domination. This is evident not only in the public sphere. In the domestic sphere, many Kerala women are subjected to similar treatment.
Indeed, lakhs of women came forward to form a massive human wall across the State against the opposition fostered by the Sangh Parivar to the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. At the same time the RSS and its affiliate organisations mobilised thousands of women in opposition to the Supreme Court verdict. Most of them belonged to the lower middle class. They are in fact victims. It is interesting that these victims are themselves saying that they do not want entry to the Sabarimala temple. It is self-denigration.
There is a strong patriarchal mindset in Kerala which is now facing a threat from the feminist and other women empowerment groups. I think patriarchy is trying to reassert its authority, for many progressive initiatives in Kerala such as Kudumbasree have been empowering women in the State. Even the so-called purification rites that were performed at the Sabarimala temple after Kanakadurga and Bindu entered the shrine have the stamp of patriarchy and more.
Purification rites are a form of untouchability. What the priest has done is beyond his authority. This is against constitutional equality. I hope the State government will take legal action against him and consider removing him from the post.
(As told to A.M. Shinas)
A.M. Shinas is head of the department of history at K.K.T.M. Government College, Pullut, Kerala.