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PRESS RELEASE by People for Dharma

We, the women of People for Dharma and devotees of Swami Ayyappa, are extremely disappointed with and anguished by the majority verdict of the Hon'ble Supreme Court on the issue of entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 into the Sri Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple. That the majority view could not distinguish between diversity in religious traditions and discrimination does not bode well for freedom of religion in India since it is clear from the judgement that Hindu practices and beliefs continue to be viewed through a colonial prism as opposed to an Indian prism.

We firmly believe in and respect the Constitution. It is that very Constitution which protects our beliefs and traditions. However, it is our considered position that the majority view of the Hon'ble Supreme Court has failed to uphold the Constitution since it has failed to consider the clear evidence placed before it which divorces the restriction placed on women of a certain age group from any perceived notions of menstrual impurity. The majority view has failed to appreciate the very essence of the Sri Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple which is central to its very identity and informs and dictates every ritual and tradition of the Temple, namely the Naishthika Brahmacharya of Swami Ayyapps. That the majority view has failed to consider the proud matrilineal and matriarchal heritage of the Kerala society before concluding that patriarchy and misogyny are the reasons for the restrictions placed on women of a certain age group in the Sabarimala Temple, has hurt the cultural pride of crores of Malayalees in India and across the world.

The majority view has also conveyed the message to members of all religious communities, especially Hindus, that anyone can approach the Supreme Court challenging any religious practice without understanding the practice or placing evidence before the court, as long as they claim to further the cause of social justice and gender equality. Clearly, nuance and balance are casualties of such a sweeping and blunt approach. What is also shocking is that the majority view has used words like "mob" to refer to those who support the traditions of the Sri Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple. This has deeply hurt the sentiments of millions of devotees of Swami Ayyappa, including women devotees. In matters relating to religious practices, we would have expected the Supreme Court to be more sensitive to the religious sensibilities of crores of peaceful and Law-abiding devotees in the kind of language it uses to refer to those who support their traditions. If the discourse is already skewed again those who stand for their traditions, how can we hope for impartial dispensation of justice?

That being said, we draw inspiration from the sole dissenting opinion of her Ladyship Justice Indu Malhotra, the only lady in a Bench of five Judges which presided over a matter which ostensibly relates to rights of women. It is indeed heartening to note that Justice Malhotra dispassionately examined the evidence as required by the law and arrived at the conclusion that the restriction placed on women of a certain age group in the Sabarimala Temple is neither based on misogyny nor on notions of menstrual impurity. We are happy that the sole lady member of the Bench saw a clear nexus between the celibate nature of Swami Ayyappa and the restriction placed on women of a certain age group. What is even more telling is the fact that Justice Malhotra questioned the very basis of the Petition and the standing of the Petitioners to approach the Court challenging the practice of the Sabarimala Temple, since there was not even a whisper in their Petition of their belief in Swami Ayyappa, despite claiming the right to enter the Temple. Justice Mathotra's observation that in a plural and diverse country like India, Judges must observe caution before labelling a certain practice as discriminatory based on their personal notions of morality, captures the spirit of objectivity and judicial restraint which characterizes her analysis of the case. We wish the majority view had approached the case with the same spirit.

While the judgement is indeed a sethack for us, we, as devotees of Swami Ayyappa and as believers in the Indian judicial system, will explore all peaceful, constitutional and democratic options available to us to seek justice since the judgement is bound to erode the diversity and pluralism of this vast country. We solicit the support of all like-minded women who are deeply hurt by the judgement, and in whose name the judgement has been delivered.

Swamiye Sheranam Ayyappa!


Shilpa Nair

People for Dharma
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