April 13, 2016

India: The Supreme Court has asked the officials of Kerala's Sabarimala temple whether tradition can supersede laws (Editorial, The Telegraph)

Editorial  - Pure Reason

It is a case of belief versus reason, which is the cornerstone of law. The Supreme Court has asked the officials of Kerala's Sabarimala temple whether tradition can supersede laws formulated on the basis of the Constitution. The answer to this should have been an inarguable 'no'. But there are several people in India, who, much like the Sabarimala temple officials, hold traditions to be more important than the secular authority of the State. It is on the basis of such traditions - which, in this context, refer to a set of rules that have acquired sanctity simply by being followed unquestioningly by some people down the years - that women are not allowed to enter certain temples in India. For centuries, women had been forbidden to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra. Last week, the temple officials had to open the gates, rather reluctantly, to women after the Bombay High Court ruled that if men are permitted to enter the premises, women must also be let in. While there has been no logic to the erstwhile prohibition, it has been vicious: the Shani Shingnapur temple had performed a purification ceremony after a young woman had offered her prayers standing on a platform banned for women. The message which is sought to be communicated here is that women are pollutants who compromise the purity - which is very male, it seems - of certain temples. The Sabarimala temple debars women on the same premise.
The contentions of the Sabarimala officials make for a weak case, which, in all probability, will fall through in subsequent hearings. But it is surprising that such prejudices are upheld in a temple that is famous for its egalitarian spirit - the Sabarimala pilgrimage is open to men of all castes and creeds. Had the exclusion of women from this otherwise inclusive space struck nobody as absurd till a petition was filed against it in the apex court a few months back? The fact that both the temple authorities and the state government are opposing the plea proves how insidious the hold of traditions can be. Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopananda has proclaimed that the women who enter the Shani Shingnapur temple will invite rape upon themselves. This may sound risible but it indicates the workings of belief, which is validated as tradition. Such traditions are a disgrace in a democratic State - it is time people saw reason.