A bill to stop women of all ages from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala has found support from a minister in the state. Devaswom Board Minister K Kadakampally Surendran, who is the political in-charge of boards governing state-run temples, has supported the bill set to be introduced in parliament by MK Premachandran, an ally of the opposition Congress. The proposed law is an attempt to counter the Supreme Court's September 2018 order which allowed all women - even those of menstruating age between 10 and 50 years - to enter the temple.
"We certainly welcome the Bill. If preservation of custom and tradition can be protected by law, it is good. Last September, I said that a law must be introduced to protect customs and traditions. It is not appropriate to drag devotees to the streets. We had requested the centre to pass legislation regarding this," Mr Surendran told reporters.
Hitting out at the BJP-led central government, the minister said, "The Prime Minister has repeatedly said 'we stand for preserving customs and traditions'. Respected Prime Minister, if that is your opinion, then why don't you do something in this parliament session itself. Today, Premachandran is tabling this Bill. Can't the BJP say that central government is tabling a bill?"
Asked if the bill is against gender equality, Mr Surendran said, "I don't want to get into all that. I am no scholar... but devotees cannot be dragged to the streets."
"We have been repeatedly asking the centre that they should not misguide the devotees and drag them to the streets. You should take immediate action to make a law. If that takes time, then you should at least bring an ordinance based on which the government can function or proceed further... As for us, we can only proceed within the ambit of constitution and laws of the land," he said.
Sabarimala, a temple dedicated to the celibate god Lord Ayyappa, has been a contentious issue in Kerala that has pitted devotees, who oppose the entry of women in menstruating ages, and activists campaigning for gender equality.
In September, a five-judge bench led by then Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra passed the order, which various sections claimed pits two fundamental rights -- on gender equality and the freedom to practice religion -- against each other.
Since the verdict was passed, the first two young women who managed to enter the temple, had to be in hiding for weeks, due to the perceived threat to their lives. Many other young women had been forced to turn back by the huge protests by right-wing groups that often involved the use of force, threats and intimidation.
The final decision of the Supreme Court after hearing of the review petition is still awaited.
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