Hinduism was never under the trial so much as in case of Sabarimala where Supreme Court ordered allowing the tradition to be trespassed to ensure the principle of equality of sexes to be followed. Logic of common sense matched the legal interpretation that women have to be treated equal as per the privilege and right of the Constitutions. The logic was liberalism voted for equality of sexes and the temple had prohibited the women on certain specified days between the ages of ten to fifty that was reckoned by the tradition to be fertile period. It is an ancient tradition followed in this temple whereas other Ayyapa temples have no such rule.
Hindus have unlimited mythology like Greek and many weird things have been accepted in this imaginative world. In case of Hindu religion characters and stories are woven round the creator Brahma, also on Vishnu or Mahesh three trinity of the religion which are cardinal gods of creation preservation and destruction. Ayppyapa is son of Shiva the powerful deity of Hindus and it attracts largest gathering of pilgrimage in the world which should give it a universal status. 17 to 30 million which some estimates stretch to 50 million Hindus come for pilgrimage here annually.
Women devotees themselves have turned down opportunity to enter the temple and this voluntary self denial is practices for decades. Now when some non devotees try to gain publicity througha Public interest litigation the court entered into the arena of deciding the question of entry. Except one judge evbery other of five judges of the top court reckoned it to be mater of discrimination and denying equality to sexes . As one courageous judge, who happened to be a lady herself, rightly observed it was not matter of discrimination but differentiation.It was different practice not with a view to exploit or deny but to honour a diety who is celebrating celibacy. How sensitive and honoring tradition has been equated to denial or restriction. Court was within its rights to refuse to Enter into religious sphere especially when High court had already refused to do so and rightly so. It does not mean that courts cannot enter into religious matter if exploitation is taking place or a law is being violated. It certainly can and must do but in this case no devotee had filed a complaint as rightly observed by the dissenting judge. Later the devotees prevented two shady activits from entering the shrine . These women one Muslim and other Christian were forcing entry ointo the temple tow enter into the blitz of media coverage. One women turned to be model though BSNL employee who was accused of drug addiction. So no one concerned but some activists were trying to gain glare of public applause. Subramanian Swamy apprehends it would weaken the case of three talaq or other such exploitative practices of the religion if court is prevented from judging the religious matters. But as I have explained the denial of entry was not exploitation but honoring the deity and women worshipping the lord accepted it . In women are discriminated or denied privileges or tortured court can enter any area religious or social? But in this case whole thing was stage as hoax. The dissenting judge rightly observed it.
This judgment also raised the question of equality of sexes as under the shadow of such liberalism the court delivered a liberating judgment. But it was a chimera.In fact there are two aspefcts of the entire episode . First is the question of values of liberalism and considerping the rites of old religions as anachronistic or out of date. Many feel Hindus should progress and change such practices. But why should Hindus change when the essence of religious is to preserve the virtues following a long held tradition. It is legacy and the heritage. If Muslim does not allow women not to enter mosques or to dress in particular manner it is harmless. But to indulge in teen talque or such other divorce that harms women it is ripe for change. If Hindus practices Sati it was tortuous due to change of times when the practice really pertained to escape from dishonor and torture by invaders. But it is not a ritual to honour a deity and temple follows a practice for decades accepted by the community.
Another question confusing the minds of so called liberals is the equality of sexes. There is nothing like equality of man and woman as both are unequal in body and mind. Scientifically the measurements of body’s strength or intelligence have shown vast differences even amongst men and men. How then there could be equality of sexes? Hindus too consider women in many matters unequal to men but in many others women are considered superior to men. They are worshipped as Goddesses. The fundamental issue for justice is whether there was exploitation of women or due to sex some women were discriminated in matters of obtaining benefit.
Sabarimala need to be defended for its virtues and resolve of deity for honouring celibacy (brahamcharya) and no one should make it an issue when devotees’ themselves resist change of practice. It is high time an appeal is filed to modify the judgment and let people worship Ayappa peacefully.
By Prof. NK Singh
(The writer is former Chairman, International Airports Authorirty of India)