Kanaka Durga clearly insisted, “I have not changed my stand on women’s entry into Sabarimala temple. I don’t have to change my stand because, unlike political leaders, I don’t have to appease voters”.
In a candid interview with The Quint, one of the first women to enter Sabarimala on 2 January 2019, Durga said that she “wants women believers who are inclined to go to the temple to be allowed to do so”.
While the 43-year-old, who is a member of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the national worker’s union of the CPI(M), has been upholding her conviction for the past two years, the same cannot be said about her parent party, the CPI(M), which seems to have softened its stand.
Has the CPI(M) Walked Back?
Just weeks before the Assembly election scheduled for 6 April, Kadakampally Surendran – a prominent leader of the party and cabinet minister – expressed his “regret” over the “untoward incidents that unfolded” in Kerala after the Supreme Court’s 2018 judgement allowed women of menstruating age to enter the temple.
The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government has also withdrawn all cases except those of “serious criminal nature” associated with the ‘Save Sabarimala’ agitation.
Both, the BJP and the Congress had supported the ‘believers’ protest’ at the time.
So far, even CITU has not condemned the attacks on Kanaka Durga, an employee of the state’s cooperative society Supplyco. Durga had allegedly faced threats to her life from her family members including her brother, former husband, and mother-in-law, after she entered the temple.
Quite contrary to its current stance on the issue, in 2018, the LDF government had accepted the SC judgement on Sabarimala promptly.
The government’s Home department that is controlled by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also offered protection to women devotees who wanted to make their way into the temple. Thereafter, Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini – two women in their 40s – had entered the temple. Their entry met with severe backlash from the BJP, that had mobilised thousands of believers to rally against the women’s temple entry. In November 2019, the Supreme Court referred the Sabarimala case to a larger bench.
Kanaka Durga asked, “Should election results matter more than progressive politics?”
‘In Support of the Majoritarian Sentiment’
According Kanaka Durga who once was a taluk level leader of the CITU, the CPI(M) has made an about-turn because the party thinks that Kerala’s society is not ready for progressive gender politics.
“CPI(M) thinks that society has not accepted the gender reform it mooted in Sabarimala. As the party wants a second term in the Assembly, the leadership has decided to support majoritarian sentiment which is expressly against women’s entry into Sabarimala.”Kanaka Durga
Durga deplored Surendran’s remarks stating she will not support any leader who takes a “regressive stand”. Cheekily responding to the minister’s comment she said that, unlike him, she will “never regret her decision” and that she is “ready to face the consequences” for her actions.
Durga’s had pressed charges against her mother-in-law for allegedly physically assaulting her after she visited the temple. She is now a divorcee. Durga’s maternal family too has disowned her.
“My brother still wants me to apologise to the public. He has made it clear that he will allow me to enter my maternal home only if I do so,” Durga said nonchalantly. She now lives alone in Perinthalmanna of Malappuram district.
The CPI(M) minister’s ambiguous statement has come shortly after the Congress raked up Sabarimala as part of its election campaign.
The Congress had released the draft of a legislation titled ‘Sabarimala Ayyappa Devotees (Protection of Religious Rights, Customs and Usages) Act, 2021’ in the second week of February this year.
The draft which promises to penalise any violation of the temple’s tradition, including those that prevent the entry of women between 10 and 50 years, will be tabled if the United Democratic Front (UDF) government is voted to power, the Congress has clarified.
Election surveys, including the ABP-C-Voter poll, predict a CPI(M)-led LDF government win in the Kerala Assembly election. Yet, pressure seems to have mounted on the party leadership to adopt measures to appease more voters. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, backing the majoritarian and patriarchal sentiments that favoured the protection of customs of Sabarimala, the Congress-led UDF had won 19 out of 20 seats in the state.
“There is a dearth of political leaders who support progressive politics. I think there is a dearth of such leaders even within the CPI(M). Very few Communist leaders now stand for progressive thought.”Kanaka Durga
Does she fear backlash from CITU or CPI(M) as she vehemently opposes the Marxist party’s populist approach on Sabarimala?
‘Why Should I Fear?’
Kanaka Durga said that she does not think religious dogma should govern women’s lives. “Let those who want to uphold religious tradition of the temple do so. But they have no right to attack people who do not want tradition to hamper women’s right to equality. Political parties should make this clear,” Durga clarified her stance to The Quint.
Durga said that she has no backing either from the CPI(M) or the CITU.
“I joined CITU because I wanted to be part of a union at my work place. I did not take permission from the leadership to enter the temple,” she said, adding, she does not live by the dictates of the party.
Durga said she will support only those leaders who stand for women’s rights.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has not evidently walked back on his stand on Sabarimala, she observed “Even now the CM says that Supreme Court’s order will be implemented. I think other leaders of the party should learn from his unwavering stand,” she said.
Electioneering should, however, not prevent the CM from upholding gender equality, she added.