After Ayodhya verdict, all eyes on SC ruling on Sabarimala review pleas
After the verdict on the contentious Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, all eyes are now on the Sabarimala hill temple. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a bunch of review petitions - 65 in all - questioning the September 28, 2018 verdict which had allowed women of all ages to worship at the temple.
Kerala had witnessed large-scale violence and five shutdowns last year when the CPI(M)-led state government tried to implement the verdict. At least 50,000 protestors were booked at the height of the agitation which also affected pilgrims’ footfall and revenue of the temple frequented by 20 million devotees during the three-month pilgrimage season.
Many devotees who called for status quo at the temple have pinned hopes on the main content of the Ayodhya verdict that deity Ram Lalla is a juristic person - a juristic person is a non-human legal entity recognised by the law and entitled to rights like a human being. But they agree that both the cases are totally different.
Traditionalists have argued that the idol in Sabarimala temple, Lord Ayyappa, is celibate so there are some restrictions on women of child-bearing age entering it. They contend that the deity has certain rights that have to be respected and constitutional morality should not be applied to matters of faith.
“We are optimistic. Lakhs of devotees are praying day in and out and their belief will be protected,” said Rahul Iswar, an activist and TV personality, who opposed the dilution of the age-old customs of the temple. He was arrested twice last year during protests.
“It was a wrong interpretation that Sabarimala is against women. Every deity is different and they do carry peculiar characteristics. In other Ayyappa temples, women of all ages are allowed. We hope the apex court will protect believers and leave such issues to seers and acharyas,” said P Abilash, an engineering student, who spent 40 days at a tea shop disguised as a helper while taking part in the protest at the hilltop. He is facing four cases for rioting, violence against women and flouting prohibitory orders. He still believes that he did everything for his favorite deity and did not do anything against women. Many Ayyappa temples admit that there is a rush for special offerings for a “favourable outcome”.
But women activists and others feel that the court is unlikely to topple the four-one majority verdict of the constitution bench that upheld the rights of women and scrapped some outdated practices which are observed in the name of faith. “It is a well-studied verdict and I don’t think any dramatic changes are likely in it,” said author and writer Lekshmy Rajeeve.
“It is a historic verdict. I hope the top court will reject patriarchal views of some zealots,” said Bindu Ammini, one of the two women who entered the temple last year making history. She said she expected a steady stream of visitors after her entry but was shocked to see nobody could make it.
Legal experts say there are three options before the apex court -- reject all petitions or allow them and refer it to a larger constitutional bench of seven judges. They say it is wrong to interpret that review petitions have no scope and cited the recent reversal in the apex court verdict on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act). As believers and activists anxiously wait for the outcome of the review pleas, the temple will open its doors for the three-month long pilgrimage season on November 17.