Thiruvananthapuram: In a complete U-turn, the CPM-led Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala categorically stated yesterday that women will not be allowed to enter the Sabarimala shrine during the holy 41-day Mandala Pooja season starting today.
The CPM played second fiddle saying that the Supreme Court decision to refer the issue of women entry to a larger bench has thrown a pall of doubt and unless there is clarity, the government need not support the cause of women.
Vijayan left the issue of talking to the media to his minsters. Law Minister AK Balan reiterated his stand that women who come for darshan will not get any protection from the police.
The stand of the government and the CPM is diametrically opposite to the stand taken last year when they proactively supported women entry and also managed to sneak two women into the temple under the cloak of darkness.
Subsequently, Vijayan went to the extent of organising a ‘women wall’ in the name of progressive thinking.
The government’s U-turn came after it reportedly received a legal opinion on the judgement advising the government not to entertain women’s entry until the Supreme Court issues a final order in the case. Supreme Court lawyer Jayadeep Gupta reportedly gave this advice after the government approached him seeking further clarification on the judgment.
Minister for Devaswom Kadakampally Surendran told media today that the women who want to go to Sabarimala can approach a court seeking police protection and come to the shrine with a court order on the same.
So far, 46 women in the 10-50 age group have applied online to go to Sabarimala.
In reply to these women, Surendran said Sabarimala is not a place for “women activists to show off their activism.”
“Women like Tripti Desai (Maharashtra-based gender rights activist) declaring that they will go to Sabarimala just want to show their strength and same is the case of other women who make similar declarations. There are also some who want to make a political gain out of it,” he said.
However, the rider by the Devaswom minister that police protection would only be granted to women who come with a court order has put the police in a fix. If they give protection, they will face the wrath of the devotees, if not the wrath of the court.
Kerala Minister for Law AK Balan also said that the government will not give protection to any women to go to the shrine and there will not be any change on this until there is a final verdict.
The change of heart by Vijayan and his party is not surprising as the CPM had to face the wrath of the devotees during the Lok Sabha polls wherein the party managed to get just one seat of the 20 at stake. With Kerala slated to go for Assembly elections, the government and the party are not keen on burning too many bridges and, instead, wants to build new ones with devotees of the hill shrine god.
Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala, has a huge following across castes in Kerala and it was not surprising that some of the traditional supporters of the CPM abandoned the party in hordes.
Unlike other temples in Kerala, Ayyappa shrine at Sabarimala does not recognise the caste system.
Meanwhile, the All India Sabarimala action committee, the RSS backed entity that was behind protests last year, has said that any attempts made by women to pray at the temple this season too would be met with stiff resistance.
“We don’t have to tell what preparations have been taken, when they(women) come, we will see. Last time it was the devotees who protested not the Karma Samithi, they are protecting the temple. People from the Karma Samithi will not be there at the hilltop,” said N Rajan, state general secretary of the Sabarimala action committee.
In the previous Sabarimala season, over 10 women tried to enter the temple over a span of three months. However, just 2 of the women managed to reach the temple steps, that too only with police protection.
The Sabarimala season this year will begin on November 15 and go on till January 20 and Kerala police do not want to take any chances this time and intend to prevent any untoward incident.