"Long ago on the streets of Vaikkom in a rickshaw
The great sage Sree Narayana was going
An idiot born as god on earth
Came up and ordered the rickshaw to withdraw."
(From a poem written on the Vaikom Satyagraha by the famous Malayalam poet Muloor Padmanabha Panicker)
The developments in Kerala should be a matter of concern for citizens across India.
It was Swami Vivekananda who, appalled by the inhuman rigid caste-based rules and rituals of Kerala society at the time, had called it " a madhouse." The Kerala renaissance led by great social reformers like Ayyankali, Shree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swami and others from different communities had, through tremendous courage and sacrifice, confronted, resisted and defeated the forces of orthodoxy and conservatism operating in the name of religious tradition and belief. Their heroic and visionary endeavors loosened the shackles of caste discrimination and violence against Dalits, avarnas, especially women, and gave them the confidence to fight for dignity and rights and helped transform Kerala society. It was the communists, progressive and democratic forces who took that legacy forward to expand it to include economic justice and rights of the working people and they adopted a model of development which has brought Kerala to the first place in the country in all social indicators.
Today, the forces of darkness which had turned Kerala into that madhouse have been reincarnated in the form of those who are roaming the streets shouting filthy abuse at the Chief Minister, burning buses, smashing cars, attacking ordinary people on the roads, brandishing sticks and throwing stones, all because two women entered the temple in Sabarimala. "Women menstruate, ipso facto they are impure, their presence in the temple will defile the deity, tradition tells us so, this is our faith and therefore must be respected." It is a terrible, dangerous rewind to the days of the madhouse.
The concern is because the hooliganism is organised by members of the political party that rules India. Its leader has taken oath as Prime Minister, swearing allegiance to the constitution of India. But in Kerala, it is only because the state government led by Pinarayi Vijayan is fulfilling its constitutional duty by implementing the Supreme Court order in the Sabarimala case that his men are enraged. The court had lifted the ban on the entry of women in the fertile age bracket, calling it unconstitutional. Two women who reached the temple early last morning expressed their wish to worship the deity. They were given the required protection to do so. Earlier, other women had tried to enter the shrine but were always obstructed by Sangh Parivar men, who surrounded them, shouting abuse, manhandling them and deliberately tried to provoke the police into using force, knowing that this would affect the thousands if not lakhs of devotees who would be present at any given time.
The Kerala government refused to fall into the trap. It had reiterated its commitment to implement the Supreme Court judgement. Many of the troublemakers who tried to physically prevent the women were identified and arrested. This time there was no obstruction. The game of the RSS-BJP Sangh Parivar was foiled.
The tantri or head priest shut the temple and performed a purification ceremony to wash away the polluting presence of the two women. This gentleman has been taking advice from the BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai. This became public when a recording of their conversation was broadcast in which the BJP leader is heard assuring the priest of all protection. Was it under his advice that the priest acted as he did? This outrageous action demeaning women is exactly what Dalits have and still do face in so many temples today. The purification rituals performed in the Sabarimala temple are completely illegal, an act of grave insult to women, an assault on democracy. The government will surely explore the legal measures required against this act.
The entry of women into the temple, a decision taken by them, comes in the background of a widespread campaign in Kerala upholding the rights of women in all spheres, including the right to worship. The campaign did not urge women on whether to enter the temple. It held that these are individual decisions. It however attacked the retrograde thinking about menstruation; menstruation is creation, not crime, why should women be punished, was the question asked by thousands of activists fanning out to houses, speaking at public meetings, breaking the social taboo that such things should not be discussed in public.
For two months, this inspiring campaign reawakened the love and respect for the social reform movement and its leaders and the history of the Kerala renaissance. It reminded Keralites of the dangers of being pushed back to the dark ages by those who want to destroy this legacy. It was an unprecedented campaign which in this phase culminated in the historic Women's Wall for women's equality and rights in defense of the values of the renaissance. Never before has this country, or indeed the world, witnessed such an event in which over 5 million women stood shoulder-to-shoulder, covering a distance of more than 620 kms from one end of Kerala to another. They were from all communities, from all walks of life, of all ages, spirited, joyous taking a pledge not to allow Kerala to become a madhouse again.
But the challenge faced is serious and enormous. In his most recent interview, the Prime Minister justified his party's position on the Sabarimala judgement, saying it is a matter of faith. This mask of "faith" has been used historically against all steps of social change and reform. It was used to justify the aggressive mobilizations in support of Sati and against the proposed law banning widow immolation and its glorification through Sati temples after the horrific burning of 21-year-old Roop Kanwar on the pyre of her husband in 1987. It was used before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is being used to justify lynchings in the name of the cow. So when the Prime Minister speaks of faith when his men are indulging in violence, well, it should certainly be a matter of concern.
It should also be a matter of concern for all secular minded people that the main opposition party in Kerala, the Congress in Kerala has announced that its MPs will give a memorandum to the Prime Minister today to request him to bring an ordinance for the takeover of the Sabarimala temple. Nothing would Please the PM more: a Mandir ordinance for Sabarimala today, can Ayodhya be far behind. Such utterly opportunist politics will prove to be a self goal for the Congress in Kerala.
Solidarity actions with the Women's Wall and support for the role of the Kerala government in fulfillng its responsibility to implement the Supreme Court order are taking place in several states. In the coming days, these solidarity actions will surely increase. When right-wing forces led by those in power threaten, bully and intimidate all those who stand for democracy and equality, the message of the Women's Wall has a resonance far beyond the boundaries of Kerala.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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