Sabarimala: Could Political Drama in Name of Culture Reap Benefits for BJP?
January 23, 2019
As Sabarimala shrine has been closed after the two-month long annual pilgrimage season, BJP-RSS machinery has concluded their four-month long “protest series” that ironically had become a burden for themselves. Ever since the apex court overturned the regressive ban on the entry of women from menstrual age on September 28, the right-wing forces from the state had unleashed colossal ruckus in favour of a custom that endorsed gender discrimination.
The political drama was linked to the “culture” and “tradition” to polarise people from the state. With planned attacks, violence and dual standards, the right-wing supporters have been trying to appropriate Ayyappa devotees in order to get them to oppose the SC verdict. RSS, which earlier was in favour of the entry of women in Sabarimala, had tactically changed their stance, and resorted to mass protests against the verdict. The devotees, however, eventually seem to have realised the political agenda behind it.
When the doors of the shrine opened for the monthly pooja (worship) for traditional Malayalam month Thulam, the RSS goons who camped in sannidhanam (temple premises) masquerading as devotees, attacked women and even media persons. They took law and order in their hands. Though the doors were closed after five days, the temple opened again for Chithira Attam pooja, and this time too, BJP-RSS goons did the same. Like many women, a 52-year-old woman who had reached Sabarimala to perform special ceremonies for her newly born grandson was brutally attacked, and protesters could be seen screaming “beat her to death” in footage obtained from the spot. BJP general secretary K Surendran was among the ones who had been booked in relation with this incident.
Finally, when the temple doors opened for the annual pilgrimage season, Hindu Aikya Vedi (Hindu United Front) leader P K Sasikala was arrested for violating the prohibitory orders, by entering the temple. Soon after the arrest, Sabarimala Karma Samithi had called for a complete shutdown backed by the BJP. Following this, K Surendran who had reached the temple premises on November 18 had also been arrested. However, there was no shutdown call in support of Surendran. This created a sense of divide within the BJP in the state.
Since the police and state machinery had succeeded in maintaining the law and order, BJP and Sabarimala Karma Samithi were forced to shift their protest arena, and relocate to the state capital. In front of the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, they embarked upon a relay hunger strike. On December 3, BJP state general secretary AN Radhakrishnan took the baton first, and later it was handed over to CK Padhmanabhan and Sobha Surendran. As the days passed, the number of supporters in the pandal were narrowing down.
The Sabarimala Karma Samithi – a right-wing group backed by RSS-BJP held an event named Ayyappa Jyothi (lighting of sacred lamp) all across Kerala on December 26. Though the Jyothi was supposed to be a long human chain covering the highways, people had gathered in scattered groups.
Meanwhile, the Left Front government formed a 620-km-long Women’s Wall for gender justice, connecting the extreme North and South of the state. Unlike the Jyothi, the Women’s Wall saw participation from more than three million women. Within hours of the historic gesture, two women, in their early forties, entered Sabarimala after nearly three decades.
The right-wing forces, however, stirred violent protests in various places across the state following this development. A number of Communist Party of India (Marxist) offices were attacked; houses of Left activists were being targeted, public infrastructure was vandalised, as the right-wing goons led violent demonstrations. Sabarimala Karma Samithi had given a call for a complete shutdown on following day, January 3.
The non-corporation from Kerala Vyapari Vyavasaya Ekopana Samithi (Kerala Traders’ Union) towards the shutdown call irked the protesters, and the latter went on a rampage by destroying various shops especially in Kozhikode. They had even targeted closed shops, exposing to the general public the provocative nature of the Sangh workers. Various political parties led by CPI(M) took to streets to prevent this rampage. Videos of people locking horns with the Sangh workers, and resisting them physically went viral on social media. Among them was one from Edappal in Malappuram district where the patrolling BJP and other Sangh outfit activists were attacked by the public. The government acted immediately by arresting around 3,000 BJP-RSS workers for their role in the rampage and vandalism.
Hammering the final nail into their coffin, the Left government, on January 19, told Supreme Court that 51 women of menstrual age had entered the temple following the court verdict. For RSS-BJP, who have been trying to project the Sabarimala issues as Ayodhya-2, it was definitely a huge blow. They had called off the undergoing hunger strike on the same night, saying that the protest was “not entirely successful”. This move shows the helpless situation the BJP-RSS has got into, in relation with Sabarimala. Thanks to a determinant government led by the Left and a progressive secular public, the tactical move by the Sangh went in vain for another time.
However, the BJP-RSS brigade has now launched a different strategy to tamper with the conscience of Ayyappa devotees across the state. On Sunday evening, an Ayyappa Bhakta Sangamam (Ayyappa Devotees’ Gathering) was conducted at Thiruvananthapuram in the presence of many sanyasis(ascetics) from across the country.
The gathering was organised by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, which was apparently planning to siege the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. However, the plan was later dropped fearing inadequate participation.
First published in Newsclick.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.