Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanaka Durga, 44, are escorted by police after they attempted to enter the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Dec 24, 2018. — Reuters/File

Sabarimala, Ayodhya and India's rising majoritarianism

When the justice system starts to look like an extended arm of the executive, the society suffers.

Updated 03 Jan, 2020 04:31pm

Almost 200 years ago the British government passed a law in 1829 banning the practice of Sati that entailed burning a widow on the pyre of her dead husband. At the time, hardcore Hindus came on the streets to protest against what they called British interference in Hindu tradition and also excommunicated Hindu reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy for leading a movement to outlaw the inhuman practice. Despite this reaction, the British government did not budge.

In the late 19th century, social reformer and educationist from the western Indian state of Maharashtra Savitri Phule led a campaign for women's education as well as the emancipation of the Hindu Dalit Mang community. Her efforts also saw the establishment of the first girls’ school in India despite strong resistance from hardliners.

Similar social reform was attempted in South India in late the 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to an undermining of the caste system to empower those living at the margins of Hindu society.

In post-independence India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced the Hindu code bills that codified the community's personal laws, a progressive step that brought Hindu personal law at par with modern law in terms of gender parity and redefining marital and property laws.

Also read | Article 370 gone and Ram Temple on the way: What does Modi’s New India look like?

This reformist measure was bitterly opposed by the Jan Sangh, earlier incarnation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its paternal organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Nehru saw the codification of the personal law of the majority community as a first step in establishing a modern and secular India.

So in 2019, it is preposterous to find India again debating whether or not women should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple. The Indian judiciary has been citing religious sentiments of the Hindu community as the reason to revisit a judgment that the apex court had itself delivered in September 2018, allowing unrestricted entry of women in the temple located in the state of Kerala.

The September 2018 ruling was a majority judgement ruling that women irrespective of what age they were should be allowed to enter the temple and that “any exception placed on women because of biological differences violates the Constitution” and was against its Article 14 that guarantees right to equality and Article 25 that ensures freedom of religion. Women celebrated that verdict.

This decision nullified the Kerala High Court verdict of 1991 that imposed a ban on the entry of women from the ages of 10 to 50 in the temple on grounds that the celibate deity would get distracted by the presence of these women in the temple's sanctum sanctorum.

The 2018 verdict led to huge protests in Kerala with the BJP seeing in the occasion an opportunity to exploit religious sentiments and create a movement similar to the one that it had done in the 1980s in North India with respect to the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Politics around the mosque at the time had led to phenomenal growth for the party in centre of India and its campaign to build a temple at the site where the 16th century mosque stood polarised the entire nation. However, the Hindu consolidation secured BJP power in major North Indian states and finally paved the way for its ascension to the throne in Delhi.

More on this: Did the top court legalise India’s quest for a theocratic state?

On the other hand, South India has been evading BJP’s attempts at making inroads. With Sabarimala, the party saw a political opening and mobilised resistance to the court’s 2018 ruling. Although it could not make much headway as entrenched political players like Congress and the communist parties also played their cards deftly. And as a result, in the last parliamentary elections, the BJP could not open its electoral account in Kerala.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court accepted a review petition to the Sabarimala verdict of 2018 and agreed to revisit its judgment. Failing to evolve a consensus on the matter last week, the five-judge bench decided to refer the matter to a seven-member larger bench. Justice (retd) Ranjan Gogoi who as chief justice ruled on the review said restrictions on women in religious places weren't limited to Sabarimala alone, and they were prevalent in other religions too, adding that the larger bench would decide all such religious issues relating to Sabarimala, to the entry of women in mosques, and the practice of female genital mutilation within certain Muslim sects.

This comes months after the BJP government enacted a law making the utterance of triple talaq a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in jail. It may have been an attempt to attract votes from Muslim women, but was broadly interpreted as an attempt to create division within the Muslim community.

Many political analysts question the zeal of the BJP on criminalising the utterance of triple talaq, already declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2017, when it makes no such attempts to touch, let alone open up to criminal offences, the personal laws of other groups in India. It is also important to ask that if the BJP is keen to address the issue of gender injustice in the Muslim community, why does it oppose demands for gender equality within Hindu society?

Read further: Need Ambedkar in Sabarimala

What is disquieting is that the justice system also appears to be taking a pro-majoritarian tilt in clubbing the Sabarimala case, which had already been decided in a ruling that upheld the Constitution, with the practices of other religions, and therefore calling for fresh deliberations. The judiciary should be a progressive pillar of the state that should adjudicate any case keeping in mind the spirit of the Constitution.

The latest Sabarimala development came days after a verdict in the Ayodhya case where the site was awarded to Hindus. Many in India saw that as a setting aside of the constitution's secular spirit by a judiciary appearing to assuage majoritarian sentiment.

This is not the way to go for the world's biggest secular democracy. The rise of majoritarian politics in India is accentuating not only religious but also social and gender fault lines and the role of the judiciary at this stage is critical. Instead of appearing to cater to primeval tendencies, it should play the role of a just, progressive interventionist.

Also, we must remind ourselves that economic development is not the only yardstick of a progressive society. Any developed society begets progressive laws and a progressive judiciary. But when the justice system starts to look like an extended arm of the executive, the society suffers.

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Author Image

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asia. A keen observer of politics in India and the subcontinent, Kumar in his 15 years of journalistic career has worked with both national and international media. A news reporter, columnist, commentator, producer and blogger, Kumar does not confine himself to one particular genre in journalism.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (79) Closed

brr
Nov 22, 2019 10:19am
The justice system and governments in Indian have worked hard for 70 leftist years to deny hindus their own rights, their civilization benefits, and their religious observances. These shackles are finally being shed.
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Thalaiva
Nov 22, 2019 10:25am
As per the author all ills exist in the hindu community and any social evils in other communities/religion should be untouched or will be treated as vote bank politics. He has conveniently ommitted that muslim women are not allowed in the majority sunni mosques.
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Shash
Nov 22, 2019 10:27am
Why nehru did not bring laws for muslims, to bring them to modern era?
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kautilya
Nov 22, 2019 10:30am
Indian Justice of India will never like the Arm of the Government
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well meaning
Nov 22, 2019 10:30am
pakistan is no better in religosity or majoritaniarism
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Asma
Nov 22, 2019 10:37am
Dont worry. Along with the right of entry to Sabrimala, court is also looking into rights of women to enter into mosques.
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khalida
Nov 22, 2019 10:42am
@Thalaiva, You have to be really clueless to not know that ANYONE can enter a mosque. Also, there is no legal restriction unlike there was in Sabremala
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Satyendra
Nov 22, 2019 10:50am
Pakistan's newspapers are much obsessed with the problems of India. In the same manner, Indian new papers do not give much importance to Pakistani issues. Even the recent Azadi march was not given enough importance in Indian news papers.
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Guru
Nov 22, 2019 11:01am
@khalida, Out of 6 lac temples women are barred entry in 5 and men in 6 temples for a reason. In rest of temples all men and women can enter, pray shoulder to shoulder without any problem. Most of Mosques in India women are not allowed.
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Shubs
Nov 22, 2019 11:05am
@khalida, "You have to be really clueless to not know that ANYONE can enter a mosque." Yes Sir, please tell me another!!
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Run Veer
Nov 22, 2019 11:08am
We Hindus (globally) need to strive for equal opportunities all men and women. We have covered a lot of ground and still long way to go, we should double our efforts to get to level of Scandinavian level. We should not worry what is happening Pakistan.
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Samsonite
Nov 22, 2019 11:14am
@khalida, then why is the case on entry of muslim women into sunni mosques, filed in supreme Court of India?
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AK
Nov 22, 2019 11:16am
@khalida, Women exclusion from quite a few mosques is very well know phenomenon. Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque was moved by Asra Nomani because women weren't allowed in her Morgantown mosque Tajik Women have been fighting for same; read IWP report. In India plea to allow women to enter and offer namaj (Also allowing to reach inner sanctum) was moved by A MUSLIM WOMAN. Same situation in many mosques in Pak (if not totally discourage, seclusion, not allowing to reach center etc) still present Sabrimala DOESNT have any legal rule which disallow women. NONE. Thats specific temple deity is celibate so as per faith menstruating women aren't allowed as per practice(no legal rule).Women do visit sabrimala.Its not gender discrimination issue There are many temples in India where men arent allowed like:Attukal , Chakkulathukavu , Lord Brahma Pushkar(no married men),Mata temple Muzaffarpur.Is this also gender discrimination?Its all about practices surrounding a specific temple
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R. Kannan
Nov 22, 2019 11:17am
While I personally think the practice of menstruating women not going to temples is not correct, I have a number of women friends and relatives who think otherwise. In the Sabarimala 2018 judgement, the dissenting voice was that of the only woman in that bench, Indu Malhotra. Mixing up the Sabarimala and Ayodya judgments is a favourite tool of those who have not read either of the judgments in full. I have not read the Sabarimala judgement but the Ayodhya verdict is 1045 pages long and has a lot of logic and law. The primary issue remains taht the Hindu side had been praying at that site, even during the Mughal era, while the Muslims were praying only occassionally. The archaelogical evidence, something that Left wing historians and journalists ignore, clearly established that the Mosque was built on top of a Hindu temple. The judgement called the demolition a criminal act and the judgement was based on the Hindu side establishing a much stronger claim to the disputed land.
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jay
Nov 22, 2019 11:18am
Unfortunately the article misses some important points. Sabarimala pilgrimage is physically challenging and requires walking miles through forests infested with wild animals.That is the main reason for stopping young women going to the temples. In fact there are thousands of temple where women are welcome. Sabarimala is an exception. Hindu temples are managed by the government. The present Kerala state government is by Marxists who do not believe in any God. Chrisitians and Muslims control their own places of worship.
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ravi
Nov 22, 2019 11:18am
India's constitution has written by a dalit man, Dr BR Ambedkar not by any Hindu leftist...
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Jacky
Nov 22, 2019 11:26am
@Satyendra, India is their source of bread and butter.
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khusboo
Nov 22, 2019 11:34am
Due to censorship not much Pak news hence all they find are negative news from India We Indians least bothered as what is happening in Pakistan Stop living in past
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Anonymouseee
Nov 22, 2019 11:41am
@Thalaiva, stop spreading false rumors. Women are allowed in all masjids, though they have a separate entrance.
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Biju Raveendran
Nov 22, 2019 11:42am
Sabarimala is not a place for activism. Women devotees of the deity within the menstrual age abstain themselves from visiting the deity as a mark of respect for the deity who is in utmost celibacy. Activist women of the menstrual age visiting the deity degrades the dignity of the real devotees. In the case of Ayodhya, many native Indian rulers of undivided India had welcomed many foreign rulers and people of foreign culture to the land and had given all facilities including land and material for fortifying and preserving their faith and culture in the Undivided Indian Land. Only an adjustment of 2.77 acres of land instead of 5 acres of land nearby will upgrade the dignity of Muslims in India and the entire world. Those who were expecting a civil war and unrest within India due to the Ayodhya dispute have been disappointed. The judgement was in the larger national interest. Beautiful monumental constructions are also part of the country's progress ,development and peace.
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Faif
Nov 22, 2019 11:51am
Dawn is a good newspaper. But do you really think that india to learn from pakistan or China on democracy and secularism? Amongst indians 20 crores are muslims. Ever increasing. What about muslims in China or Hindus in pakistan
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Neelkant
Nov 22, 2019 12:12pm
@jay, The only women who did travel to Sabarimala after SC opened it last year were activists and atheists goaded on by the Communist Kerala Govt. Devout Hindu women won't come there on their own.
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Neelkant
Nov 22, 2019 12:13pm
@Jacky, India used to be their source of tomatoes too but no longer.
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Neelkant
Nov 22, 2019 12:17pm
@Biju Raveendran , Beautifully put. Couldn't have said it any better.
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babu
Nov 22, 2019 12:28pm
India is only following Pakistan with it's pro-majoritarian tilt. The same is openly practiced in Pakistan.
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Tejinder
Nov 22, 2019 12:51pm
You are right, India needs to wake up before it becomes like Pakistan!
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TruthMatters
Nov 22, 2019 12:52pm
@khushboo, right?? Is that why you’re commenting here? Is that also why your TV and news channels and even your politicians couldn’t resist mentioning Pakistan during your election cycle or since? Pakistan may not be perfect but it’s far better for minorities than India. Even Dalit Hindus are better off outside of India in Pakistan.
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TruthMatters
Nov 22, 2019 12:59pm
@Run Veer, Agreed. This article was written by a Indian Hindu based in Delhi. Why drag Pakistan into this discussion? Some introspection is All that’s required.
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Ramanathan M
Nov 22, 2019 01:02pm
The very nature of the Two-Nation theory was based on Pakistan being Islamic and India being a Hindu nation. There is nothing wrong if India wants itself to be more Hindu.
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ali
Nov 22, 2019 01:03pm
The main reason behind Muslim women not been allowed in mosques is lack of space. Firstly, there are are very few mosques as compared to temples in India and most of the existing ones are like tiny huts and are poorly maintained due to lack of funds.
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Zak
Nov 22, 2019 01:07pm
@Thalaiva, ‘He has conveniently ommitted that muslim women are not allowed in the majority sunni mosques.’ Women are allowed in a mosque and have a separate section dedicated for them. Next time do research rather than base your comments on what RSS teaches you.
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Zak
Nov 22, 2019 01:10pm
@Satyendra, ‘Indian new papers do not give much importance to Pakistani issues. Even the recent Azadi march was not given enough importance in Indian news papers.’ Again in self denial. Check your TV and newspapers, they have a section on Pakistan daily. They are obsessed with Pakistan. It is we who don't care but inhumane actions are reported.
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joe
Nov 22, 2019 01:18pm
India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced the Hindu code bills that codified the community's personal laws, a progressive step that brought Hindu personal law at par with modern law in terms of gender parity and redefining marital and property laws."" Now look at the head lines and this bill which codified Hindu law as that will be followed by the people who form majority of population. Is there an example of such law being made by any government anywhere in world,that makes religious customs , tradition to move along with the present times needs .?
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joe
Nov 22, 2019 01:20pm
@khalida, I don't agree with you.Show me an example where women worship along side men in any mosque.
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South Indian
Nov 22, 2019 01:30pm
As a Tamil Hindu, I can say Hindutva tried rearing its ugly head but has already been shown the door. We Tamils are very wary of RSS agenda and upper caste domination. Religious fanatics have no place in civilised Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
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Sammy
Nov 22, 2019 01:56pm
Are muslim women allowed inside the mosque?
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Robin
Nov 22, 2019 02:04pm
@Anonymouseee, so why separate entrance?
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Anuja
Nov 22, 2019 02:07pm
None of your business
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Aranya
Nov 22, 2019 02:13pm
@Anonymouseee, total lie. I have been stopped from visiting few mosques in Morocco and Saudi. Please don't make up facts just to prove your point.
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Vikrant
Nov 22, 2019 02:18pm
Don't worry India will evolve and keeps moving in its path. you guys must focus on the mess at your own backyard.
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SATT
Nov 22, 2019 02:32pm
Leave men alone.
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SIAK
Nov 22, 2019 02:43pm
The big issue with Hindustan is that they pretend what they are not. It’s the hypocrisy that stands out in case of Hindustan. It’s not secular: it’s hindu; It’s not democracy (minority’s tights are being institutionally trampled): it’s majoritarianism.
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A. ALI
Nov 22, 2019 02:56pm
@Biju Raveendran , no unrest was envisaged... further division of Hindustan is what which is inevitable.
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Trial
Nov 22, 2019 03:07pm
@Sammy, "Are muslim women allowed inside the mosque?" Yes.
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Dehunxai
Nov 22, 2019 03:11pm
@Vikrant, unfortunately, India is evolving in backward direction in Modi regime. We have suffered a lot but your sufferings are now on their way to you!
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Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad
Nov 22, 2019 03:12pm
Tangible sights and audible sounds of the biggest false, fraud, shame, sham and fake democracy in the world called Republic of India.
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Raja
Nov 22, 2019 03:23pm
@khalida, dear you are clueless about what's the special in Sabari mala temple. Every temples have their own traditional values and procedures.
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True Indian
Nov 22, 2019 03:38pm
Indian Media does not care of serious issues in India then how they will cover Pakistan issues. Everyone will cover the news of the other advanced nations.
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Mukul
Nov 22, 2019 03:42pm
@khalida, yes indeed You guys are so modern minded that you can lecture us what is happening to your minorities?
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Onlooker
Nov 22, 2019 03:43pm
@TruthMatters, "Pakistan may not be perfect but it’s far better for minorities than India" try telling that to nimrata's parents.
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Try this
Nov 22, 2019 03:53pm
@Vikrant, "Don't worry India will evolve and keeps moving in its path. you guys must focus on the mess at your own backyard." Really? Our house is not that big. Check yours!
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Try this
Nov 22, 2019 03:53pm
@Sammy, "Are muslim women allowed inside the mosque?" Oh, yes.
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Zak
Nov 22, 2019 04:03pm
The trolls should not be propagating a wrong or making false statements without research. That is why they are misled.
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BK
Nov 22, 2019 04:07pm
@TruthMatters, if so, where have all your minorities gone? They were in double digits percentage during partition, but now less than 2%. Did they vanish in thin air? The same holds true in most Muslim majority countries. The minorities simply vanish.
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Zak
Nov 22, 2019 04:09pm
This women is the Rosa parks of India. Bringing change for the better.
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Vijay B.
Nov 22, 2019 04:10pm
When we talk about complete gender parity, what about special buses, and compartments on trains for women only?Doesn't gender parity then mandate similar special facilities for men as well?
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Vijay B.
Nov 22, 2019 04:22pm
When will all mankind accept that menstruation is a normal and a necessary biological physical function amongst females of all or most mammals and as such should have no religious relevance or connotations.
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Bangbang
Nov 22, 2019 04:34pm
Menstruation is not a sickness.
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M. Saeed
Nov 22, 2019 05:38pm
India now has 14 states that are vying for independence from the clutches of high caste Indian government.
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Krishnan
Nov 22, 2019 05:58pm
Time for India and Indians to learn the Pakistan brand of secularism.
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Divyansh Dwivedi
Nov 22, 2019 06:01pm
The gross oversimplification of a complex issue such as Sabrimala....Gender justice indeed is desirable but balancing it with faith under freedom of religion is the point which need to be weighed against each other
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Byju
Nov 22, 2019 06:45pm
@TruthMatters, Minorities better in Pakistan? Can you give their percentage of the population now and during 1947? Check your facts before commenting.
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Sher Dil
Nov 22, 2019 06:52pm
Good for India.
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Sailua Khan
Nov 22, 2019 07:15pm
Please raise the issue of Pakistan's rising majoritarianism too!
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CH
Nov 22, 2019 07:30pm
@SIAK, where is the proof and what are your credentials?
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Sashi
Nov 22, 2019 07:31pm
@khalida, your comment shows how ignorant you are about your own religion.
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Sashi
Nov 22, 2019 07:37pm
@TruthMatters, hahaha. Your comment is a wonderful joke.
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Sashi
Nov 22, 2019 07:38pm
@M. Saeed, wow what a lovely information from your dreamworld. Was it India or Pakistan in your dream.
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TruthMatters
Nov 22, 2019 08:17pm
@BK, WOW, George Orwell was right. This is what propaganda looks like. Every single Indian always makes the exact same point over and over, devoid of common sense or facts, fed by the RSS goons. Muslims made up nearly 23% of the Indian population at partition but now only they only constitute 14%. What happened to the other 9%? The simple answer is Muslims migrated westward and Hindus and Sikhs went eastward to India at Partition. Not sure about all Hindus, but Sikhs and Christians are very happy in Pakistan. Even Hindus enjoy freedoms unbeknownst to Muslims in India: Freedom to practice their religion, run for political parties, join the army and run key business organizations in major cities without the fear of mob/vigilante violence over their dietary choices, of all things.
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Harish Venkatesh Kulkarni
Nov 22, 2019 08:24pm
Debates and discussions are part of democracy
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TruthMatters
Nov 22, 2019 08:25pm
@Robin, Why do men and women have different anatomies? don’t they teach Biology in India or common sense it’d seem? By the way, This article was written by Sanjay Kumar of Delhi, India not some Muslim, of all people. If you’re so offended, tell Sanjay that there is no free press in India and that he should only criticize all other religions expect Hinduism.
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Ahmad
Nov 22, 2019 09:07pm
Thank you MA Jinnah for saving us from these...
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Ramesh
Nov 22, 2019 10:34pm
What Islamic Republic of Pakistan does to its minorities? Why are blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities at the drop of hat in Pakistan? Why Religious minorities who were more than 40% in 1947 have dropped to less than 15% now? Pakistan should do introspection before commenting about situation in India.
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samanvita
Nov 22, 2019 11:11pm
Sabarimala will do nothing for much for gender equality. It should be much lower on women's rights priority list. Only a handful temples and darghas are closed to women and only a handful women want to visit them. Please first focus not on getting more laws passed but in ensuring system is changed to fully support women in getting the existing laws executed and justice served. Issues that touch millions of wome still need to be solved! Infanticide to child marriage to proper toilets for women in rural areas to night patrols in cities to abusive marriages. These are more of economic issues. Get more women gainfully educated, provide support for them to seek justice and create jobs so more and more can work gainfully. Rest will follow! In my opinion this sabarimala, durgha cases are just political nonsense. First empower the women to a stage where they can actually make use of such right.
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Indian
Nov 23, 2019 12:21pm
@M. Saeed, High caste??? Modi belongs to backward community so does Amit Shah. It's the Congress that is run by High caste Brahmins assuming Rahul Gandhi still wears the janeu
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Pakistani
Nov 23, 2019 03:45pm
Burning a live wife with dead husband was banned less than 200 years ago by Britain. And I thought it was a myth. No wonder people convicted into different religions. Wow
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dsheth
Nov 23, 2019 06:40pm
why not?
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JAMIL
Nov 23, 2019 09:32pm
@Thalaiva, Religion does not ban women from entering Masjid (Mosque) but traditionally women do not go to Masjid (Mosque) in the Sub continent.
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JAMIL
Nov 23, 2019 09:50pm
@Sammy, Yes sir!! Women are allowed inside the mosque. Islam do not restrict women from entering the Masjid. Women do not have to pray in group(Jammat) unlike men and that's why they can pray in the corner of her home.
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