Sabarimala Row: Is ‘Left’ in Kerala ‘Surrendering’ to Orthodoxy?

Has electoral drubbing in 2019 made Kerala CM & Left leadership forget about women’s empowerment?

4 min read
Sabarimala Row: Is ‘Left’ in Kerala ‘Surrendering’ to Orthodoxy?

“Our position has always been clear on this. It is not that we were compelled to support the Supreme Court. We had always taken a stand in support of the emancipation of women. Even the affidavit we filed in the Supreme Court underlines our commitment towards equality for women.”

This is what Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told The Quint in February after his government ensured that two women activists of menstruating age were taken to the Sabarimala temple, with police protection.

His response was to a specific question from The Quint on whether he would take similar action again, despite a strong reaction from the Right and the Orthodoxy in the state, to the entry of women of all ages.

However, the drubbing in the 2019 parliamentary elections seems to have made Mr Vijayan and the Left leadership forget both emancipation of women and their vow to uphold the Supreme Court’s September 2018 verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple.


State Govt’s ‘Compromise’ Due to Electoral Drubbing?

Last week, a team of gender rights activists led by Trupti Desai were denied police protection to enter the shrine. A member of a right-wing group even attacked Bindu Ammini, the first woman of menstruating age to enter the temple, with police protection, in January this year.

The police had reportedly told the activists that they would not be able to offer protection as the apex court had referred a review of its 2018 order to a larger bench. They were merely following the diktat from the state’s political leadership.

The CPM State Secretariat, the highest decision-making body for the party in the state, had openly ‘advised’ the state government not to take a proactive position on the issue, after the five-judge bench of the apex court referred the review of the 2018 verdict to a larger bench.

Following this stand by the party State Secretariat, state minister Kadakampally Surendran said, “If any woman wants police protection to enter the temple, then she needs to produce a court order.”

The state government and the Left leadership cannot hide behind law and order concerns and the apex court review for its compromise on the issue.

It is clear that this compromise of values is a direct result of its electoral drubbing. It is aimed at appeasing the conservatives, who the government had antagonised with its earlier stand.

The LDF (Left Democratic Front) in the state won only 1 of the 20 parliamentary seats, and the Congress, which had taken a ‘double stand’ on the issue and had several senior leaders oppose the entry of women of all ages, led the UDF to win 19 seats in the state.

All Sides ‘Keen’ to Please the Orthodoxy?

Given that the Sabarimala issue had sharply polarised the debate between conservatives and liberals in Kerala society, the Left leadership believed it might consolidate the liberals behind the ruling establishment. However, such an electoral consolidation did not pay any electoral dividends.

It is this jolt that has diluted the core ideological position that the Kerala government had taken on the issue earlier this year.

But, the embarrassment to the Left administration is more pronounced because of the bold stand it had taken earlier this year – a capitulation to the Orthodoxy after an initial bravado will be a dent to its core credibility and stature.

The activists have now decided to approach the apex court and seek police protection to enter the shrine. While it is not clear how long this process and the review would take, it seems like a case of one-step-ahead and two-steps-behind for those fighting the Orthodoxy.

Gender rights activists will also receive no political support, as all sides seem keen to appease the Orthodoxy and seem Right-leaning.


Denying Women of Menstruating Age Entry: Violation of Spirit of 2018 Verdict

This is also a worrying sign for those fighting the Orthodoxy in any case, where religious beliefs and constitutional rights are in conflict.

It must be stated here that this is the situation even after a categorical verdict by a five judge bench of the apex court. The bench has referred a review to a higher bench, and the 2018 verdict stands as the final word till then is another verdict from the court.

Refusing to allow women of any age entry into the temple is a violation of the spirit of the 2018 verdict, and refusing to enforce entry is a capitulation to the Orthodoxy by the state administration.

Finally, the Congress supporting Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, and the Left capitulating to the Orthodoxy in Kerala, certainly raises a worrying question: is there anything ‘Centre’ and ‘Left’, left in Indian polity?

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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