|Devotees at Sabarimala|
Image from Indian Express
Hartals are usually like festivals in Kerala. People prepare themselves well ahead of the holiday by stocking things needed for personal entertainments on the holiday. Students are happy to get a day off from schools and colleges. Government employees are happy to relax at home instead of in their offices. The political parties that call the hartal are generally magnanimous enough to exempt “essential services like hospitals, newspapers and milk supply” from the imposed strike. No one seems to complain.
In spite of all that the hartal called today in the state by certain right wing groups such as Ram Sena, Hanuman Sena, Ayyappa Dharma Sena and Vishal Vishwakarma Aikya Vedi was a failure. Personally, I was not aware of the presence of these groups in the state. Given the turn of events in the country’s political sphere in the last few years, mushrooming of right wing organisations is not a surprise, however.
These mushroom organisations called for hartal to protest against the Supreme Court’s counsel to open the Sabarimala Temple to women. The presiding deity at Sabarimala, Ayappan, is a bachelor and hence women whose reproductive capacity is active are forbidden from the temple precincts. Since religious matters transcend logic, I wouldn’t dare to question the meaning of such canons. Every religion is better left to its own beliefs and absurdities especially when mutual hatred and suspicion dominate discourses.
The failure of the hartal, however, indicates that the majority of the people in Kerala do not seem to be opposed to the Supreme Court’s counsel. That is a good sign. As time changes, traditions should change too. There was a time when travelling through the forests to the Sabarimala hilltop was dangerous and women would have found it quite an arduous if not hazardous task. The situation today is entirely different. There are no forests, no man-eating tigers, and not much hardship except the mammoth crowds that jostle relentlessly against one another.
Women are likely to find that crowd and the jostle an excruciating experience. Yet if they are ready to endure that for the sake of the heavenly bliss that the temple apparently offers to devotees, should they be deprived of that? But I am no one to answer that question as I mentioned earlier. I shouldn’t perhaps even dare to ask such a question in the current atmosphere of partisan animosity. However, the failure of today’s hartal in my state gives me a renewed hope, a hope that the thinking faculty has not vanished altogether from the state’s people.