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Sabarimala verdict is flawed in many ways

By Sankrant Sanu
October 01, 2018 19:10 IST
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Hindu women devotees are not relieved, but distressed by the judgment.
If so, who exactly did the Supreme Court provide relief to?
Who is celebrating this judgment, asks Sankrant Sanu.

Let us imagine for a moment that there is an idyllic island in the Pacific Ocean. People follow their native traditions, and rituals, there is no war, it is a harmonious society.

On opposite corners of the island are two temples, one for men and one for women.

The women's temple celebrates menstruation, and is a safe sacred space for women to congregate and bond.

The men's temple similarly is a community space where men mingle. Men and women live in harmony.

The question simply is this -- should such a situation be outlawed? Is it necessary to force women into a men's temple and vice versa to uphold 'equality'?

This is exactly the situation that existed in Sabarimala. The Sabarimala temple did not allow women of a certain age into the temple. This was part of the legend associated with the temple's deity.

There are also women-only temples (external link) in India where no men are allowed.

Each temple has its own story and maryada. There is even a temple that specifically celebrates menstruation, the Kamakhya temple in Assam. Men are barred from the temple for certain days.


Every temple does not need to be identical, the divine can be celebrated in many different forms, each having its own particularity. It does not need to be homogenised into sameness. This is the beauty and diversity of Hindu traditions.

The Supreme Court judgment is flawed in many ways.

Firstly, the process of 'public interest litigation' in such matters is itself flawed.

The notion of 'public interest' is an excuse to subvert a basic principal of justice -- that of locus standi.

People who can show no harm to themselves can ask for a remedy in the 'public interest'. Therefore, you can impact others with no skin in the game yourself.

This turned into a farce in the case of Sabarimala.

Activists sitting in Delhi, neither devoted to temple visits, nor having any interest in worship at Sabarimala, file a lawsuit based on 'public interest'.

Never mind that the actual women devotees of Sabarimala from Kerala ran an ardent campaign with the tag #ReadyToWait, for their wish to honour the traditions of the temple.

The legend of Sabarimala has Ayyappa, the presiding deity, in celibate form, which is why women of a certain age do not visit the temple, to respect the tradition.

So when women devotees actually want the tradition to be honoured, whose 'right to pray' is being violated?

If one doesn't have faith in the legend of Ayyappa at Sabarimala, why would one go to pray at the temple at all?

The point clearly is not about the 'right to pray', but about desecrating a sacred place. This is exactly what the verdict has done.

Hindu women had repeatedly expressed their support for continuing the traditions at Sabarimala.

As Anjali George had expressed (external link) about the #ReadyToWait movement, 'It is ignorance, which makes them see the practice in Sabarimala as discriminatory.'

'#ReadyToWait is to tell the so-called activists that they are wrong on Sabarimala; to tell all the decision-makers that we devotees are the more important stakeholders in the debate over faith and not the atheist feminists,' George added.

Jogakhichudi, a devotee, writes in OpIndia (external link) in response to the Supreme Court verdict: 'I'm a Hindu woman and believer who is #ReadyToWait and with this verdict, I feel utterly cheated and defeated. Cheated and defeated by these false petitioners who didn't represent me (and thousands like me) and yet cheated me out of my right to choose to wait. But mostly, I am angry. Very angry.'

Similar sentiments were expressed by other women devotees as well. Twitter user Govinda63106467 expresses the anguish (external link) of his mother.

'The judges never thought about people like my Mom who is a ardent devotee of Ayyappa all her life and seeing her beliefs shattered by people who don't understand the emotions involved is indeed depressing.'

So the Supreme Court passes a draconian judgment on the pretext of providing relief to 'Hindu women' against discrimination. Hindu women devotees are not relieved, but distressed by this judgment.

If so, who exactly did the Supreme Court provide relief to?

Who is celebrating this judgment?

Sabarimala has been under attack for decades as a popular anchor of Hindu devotion in Kerala. It was attempted to be destroyed in a fire in 1950, a work of Christian zealots, according to the government inquiry (external link). It has since then been consistently under attack.

Further, the Supreme Court judgment was based on claiming that there was no 'scriptural or textual' basis for the practice. This is also flawed since it turns diverse Hindu traditions into becoming bad copies of Book-based religions.

Traditions do not need any textual authority. Their existence over time is their source of authority.

Thus, a patriarchal court ignored Hindu women's pleadings. It is like flawed notions of 'equality' destroying native traditions at the idyllic Pacific Island mentioned earlier, because colonial outsiders know what is best.

It is a colonial gaze on native culture, a 'civilising mission' to fix natives.

The only woman justice on the bench dissented with the four male judges. And the pretext for all of this was 'women's rights'.

Can there be a clearer example of patriarchy at work?

Sankrant Sanu (@sankrant) -- an author and entrepreneur based in Gurgaon and Seattle -- blogs at The views expressed are personal.

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