ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sabarimala Protest

The dynamics of the Sabarimala issue and its politics are analysed by trying to disassemble three intertwined features of the issue, namely the deep-rooted masculine performance in the Sabarimala pilgrimage, evolution of temple politics and the process of constituting the temple as a standard site of worship for the “Hindus,” and caste dynamics and Hindutva’s political desire.

The author would like to thank Ramesh Bairy T S for his critical comments, suggestions and continuous encouragement for writing, and Suresh Madhavan and Gautam Ganapathy for their valuable insights expressed during conversations on the issue.

On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on women’s entry (between the ages of 10 and 50) to Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala. Women’s entry was banned in 1991 by the Kerala High Court (S Mahendran v The Secretary, Travancore 1991). The petitioners approached the apex court in 2006 on the basis of constitutional rights to lift the ban at Sabarimala. Five members of the Supreme Court’s constitutional bench underlined the equal right of women in the temple by a majority verdict. It invited a huge amount of discontent, protest,
violence and mobilisation in Kerala.

In this context, this article attempts to make sense of the dynamics of the Sabarimala issue and its politics. The questions are: Why did the issue of women’s entry into Sabarimala become the central issue suddenly in Kerala? What are the political undercurrents? What does it point to about postcolonial Kerala? Sabarimala’s principal deity, Ayyappa, is a perennial celibate by faith, which forms the grounds for banning menstruating woman from entering the temple. It is a predominantly male pilgrimage centre, which does not discriminate along caste and religious lines. This “maleness” is made apparent through a variety of practices. According to Osella and Osella (2003: 730),

This pilgrimage is a gender-specific ritual
activity involving two separate forms of union. On the one hand, it merges individual men with a hyper-masculine deity—himself born from Shiva and Vishnu, two male deities. On the other, it merges each male participant with a larger community of men: other male pilgrims with whom one goes to Sabarimala; the mass of pilgrims one encounters en route to, and at the shrine; and, ultimately, the category of men as a whole.

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Updated On : 14th Nov, 2019
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