Actor-turned-politician Rajinikanth has supported the Supreme Court's decision that allows entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, but cautioned against interference when it comes to religion and traditions. The actor spoke for the first time since the verdict and said he is all for gender equality, but "traditions must be followed and respected".
The 67-year-old said that every temple has its time-honoured rituals and one shouldn't be disrespectful or interfering. "Women should have equal rights in all spheres, there is no doubt about it. People should obey the Supreme Court order, but sensitive and traditional matters should be handled with care," he said.
Kerala has been witnessing protests after the state government said it would implement the top court's order and facilitate women's entry to Lord Ayyappa's hilltop shrine. The agitation turned violent when the shrine was opened for the five-day monthly puja on Wednesday. Even elderly women participated in protests and stopped women of menstrual age from attempting to enter the celebate god's shrine.
On Friday, attempts by women activists to reach the shrine were thwarted by protesters. Two of them, including a journalist, were stopped 500 metres from the 18 golden steps that lead to the shrine's sanctum sanctorum when they were halted by a virtual wall of protesters. Sitting on the steps were a dozen priests, chanting and clapping at the women to prevent the activists from making the final half-kilometre.
A police officer accompanying them dubbed the exercise as a "ritualistic disaster". A third woman -- 46-year-old Mary Sweety -- was bluntly told by police that she was free to go to the hill shrine if she wished, but without security.
"I respect the age-old Ayyappa tradition and in my humble opinion no one should interfere in that," the Tamil superstar said.
Rajinikanth had announced his political plunge on December 31 last year and made his debut political speech in March. He announced that his yet-to-be-formed party will contest all 234 assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu's 2021 elections but is seen a little iffy about next year's Lok Sabha elections.
Rajinikanth has assured his followers that his politics will be "spiritual" and based on "honesty and truthfulness". In March, after his return from a two-week spiritual tour, he said, "God and the people are behind me."
Regarding the launch of his proposed party, Rajinikanth said 90 per cent of the work was over and he would make the announcement at the right time.
His contemporary Kamal Haasan, who also entered politics and launched his party earlier this year, however, refused to comment on the Sabarimala controversy and said he has never been to Sabarimala
The Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) founder-president said he would prefer to "stay in the centre" and talk about things that benefit women.
"It won't be proper to seek an opinion from me on this matter. I will stay in the centre and say about things good for women. I don't understand the stand of (Ayyappa) devotees. So it is better not to interfere in that," he told reporters.