The riotous scenes in the pathways leading to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala in the last few days ought to persuade everyone, irrespective of where they stand on the Supreme Court’s recent verdict, of the importance of one thing: to keep the peace. There is little to be gained in this surcharged atmosphere in stoking further trouble or using religious sentiment for political purposes. Whether one agrees with it or not, there is no dispute that the Supreme Court judgment allowing into the shrine the entry of all women, irrespective of their age, is the law of the land. Also, that it will remain so unless overturned by an even larger bench. The popular protests that have consumed Kerala following the Supreme Court judgment have suggested there is a sizeable section of devotees of both sexes that believes women in the age group of 10 to 50 should not be permitted into the shrine. But even so, this is no basis for devotees to prevent the implementation of the Supreme Court order, by threats and the unseemly use of force. Not one woman has managed to enter the temple, with two of them being turned away just 500 metres from the shrine. Faced with a threat by the head priest that the shrine itself would be closed if any of the women entered it, the police advised a woman journalist and an activist to turn back.
These developments do not augur well. Located in forest terrain, the shrine is accessible only from a few points, rendering it easy for protesters to stop vehicles and check for women in the 10 to 50 age group. It transpires that two of the women who tried to enter the temple were activists. The State government has now declared that its protection is available only to genuine devotees and not those trying to make a statement. After the drama and tension of the last few days, it is time for calmer reflection, not provocation. Activists and non-devotees are legally entitled to visit the shrine, but in such a volatile atmosphere, little is gained and a lot is lost by merely attempting to score a point. Everyone would do well to await the outcome of the review petitions before the apex court, even if the same issues resurfaced were the court to reiterate its verdict. The State government, the Travancore Devaswom Board and the devotees should discuss ways of implementing the Supreme Court order instead of frittering away their energies on managing protests and conflicts on a daily basis. If no solution is found soon, there is a risk that incidents may recur on any day when the shrine is open. Next month, the temple will open again for a longer season, placing a question mark on the possibility of peaceful and incident-free worship for devotees. Meanwhile, it is important that everyone works together to ensure that such fears are unfounded.