The Story Of Two Protests In The Wake Of Sabarimala: A Few Questions

Posted: December 28, 2018

Kerala has been witnessing a great deal of political turmoil in the wake of the protests against Supreme Court verdict on women entry at Sabarimala. It has exposed the deeply ingrained patriarchy that rules the social discourse in Kerala famed for its acceptance of values of modernity.

Kerala has been praised for its social development and the role of education in its social and cultural sphere. The high indices of social development has placed the state in an enviable position, with regards to the rest of the states in India. Women have emerged as significant components in its growth, as a labour force as well as a culturally and politically awakened section in contemporary Kerala society.

Malayalee society has projected its women as the glorified working mother model, capable of being a force to be reckoned with, in the present social system. But the Sabarimala verdict has opened a Pandora’s box, raising numerous questions and challenges that shake the foundations of this notions of an egalitarian society, as far as women’s role and position is concerned. Where does Malayalee society place its women? How does the government plan to confront this issue that ought to have been addressed long ago?

Sabarimala & women empowerment as a political tool

It is interesting to note how events have panned out in Kerala. Women in the age group of 10-50 have been permitted to enter the shrine, as per the Supreme Court’s ruling in September 2018. The verdict is yet to be implemented due to the large scale protests by men and women alike in Kerala. The women who attempt to enter are advised by the police to return, and are treated to abusive language by the protesters and often, attempts at physical assault are prevented by the police.

The women who attempt to visit the shrine and who advocate the entry are targeted both online as well as in their homes and workplaces. Their biographical details are dug out and attempts made to establish that they are not ‘devotees’, but are only ‘activists’ trying to disturb the tranquility and sanctity of the shrine, thereby that of the state. These allegations are made both by the right wing as well as by the government representatives. The picture that emerges, thus turns out to be a frightening one that challenges the very notions of women’s agency and subject position.

What is all the more terrifying is how the discourse on women empowerment that has been shaping itself post-Sabarimala verdict. Government led by the left wing, has put forth the values of cultural renaissance that began towards the late 19th century; once upon a time, it is these values that shaped Malayalee sensibility to accept and adopt modernity which had subsequently helped Kerala become what it is today – although their use now is as a political weapon to combat the forces of right wing conservatism. Right wing political and religious organisations, on the other hand, have dug deep in to the fiercely religious and ritualistic Hindu middle class, mostly upper caste communities and established the cause of Sabarimala as a matter of faith. Their political aspirations now ride high on these questions of faith.

A polarised Kerala now looks into the future with concern. While the right wing organisations joined hands to organise an event called Ayyappajyothi, women along with men assembled in large numbers believing themselves to be protecting the shrine from the ‘impure young women’.   For them this participation was a matter of faith, much like participating in the Attukal Ponkala, the famous religious festival which is hailed as a women’s event held annually at the temple at Attukal, Trivandrum.

The government is not far behind in exploiting women as tokens, as obedient pawns to be used in this game of power. So there will be a ‘Women’s Wall’, helmed by men representing the left wing as well as some religious organisations, to celebrate the values of renaissance, that had happened several decades back in Kerala. Women are expected to join hands in this endeavour, to be part of an empowerment program largely thought out and executed by men, and to aid in establishing the left wing as a women-friendly one, while women are yet to get any help from the authorities in visiting the shrine.

The questions remain. Where are the women leaders? How can a movement that happened in the past still be relevant, unless it is discussed upon, deliberated and reinvented for the contemporary society? Can tokenism offer any solution? It seems the misogyny of an inherently patriarchal Kerala society is here to stay…

Image source AajTak video

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