Thursday, July 26, 2018

Import of Sabarimala Case and its bearings on temple control in India

The Sabarimala Shrine of Lord Ayyappa

The Sabarimala case concerning the entry of women into the inner sanctum of the temple took a dramatic turn today, with the Indic Collective's J Sai Deepak, Ayyappa Seva Sangham's Kailashanatha Pillai and a bevy of others arguing effectively on the question of the custom's validity, constitutional rights of the living deity and the peculiar nature of Kerala society and the reasons why this entire case stands no ground. Suffice to say, the question of equality, morality and what constitutes right to freedom of religion has been fundamentally shaken in terms of the judges' core belief, and this will cast a long shadow on future judgments in matters related to administration and the jurisprudence of Hindu temple and matha traditions.

While the final judgment is yet to be announced, the entire case has brought back into light the role of several vested stakeholders, especially the state controlled organizations running temples across India, and their constant efforts to undermine Hindu customs under one pretext or another. The Travancore Devaswom Board was more than eager to undermine the traditions of the temple that brings the largest revenue to the state, eyeing greater earnings due to more devotees without an iota of respect for the beliefs of the region's Hindus. The state government and the opposition too discovered their atheism and contempt for religion in this matter, while they stand silent on the rape and murder cases in the various church denominations reported on a daily basis in Kerala. Even the supposedly Hindu parties' silence or the lack of participation of their top honchos in the fightback is a badge of shame that they must quietly accept now. Temple administration continues to languish in Kerala amidst all of this - the kind of tragic accidents seen couple of years back or the attempts to serve beef in temple premises are amongst the smattering of shocking incidents coming to light. Lack of accountability to the community, either on the temple budget management or on upholding temple traditions, continues to remain amiss.

Another important peg in the whole debate is the attempt of all these so called progressive voices on the matter. Their contempt of the Hindu traditions has come to the fore time and again, and the patterns are more than evident and repetitive. The reason why they succeed usually is the fragmented nature of the Hindu society and its apathy towards issues that matter to them. This case had highlighted the power of multiple voices converging towards a common rallying point; however, this cannot and must not become a one off event. It should be the norm now on all issues, thus underscoring the need to build consensus on the issues of temple administration faster than ever. Any change in tradition must come from the society and those who are responsible for the temple's upkeep in a joint manner - an example was seen in the case of Baba Balaknath Dham in Himachal, where the community agreed to allow women to enter after building consensus internally. This top down thrust and its acceptance is a major problem, and should be resisted by all the legal means at our disposal. This brings us back to the issue of who should really be responsible for our temples. Unless the community has a bigger role to play, and till there is no accountability of the boards, endowments and trusts controlled by the government, we cannot expect the true public sentiments to be ever heard, let alone expressed and defended, by those who can.

A deep schism has been opened. It is time to dig further so as to lay the foundation for the next wave of Hindu revival in the truest sense.

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