Justice Dipak Misra, the judge heading Supreme Court’s special bench, pulling up Travancore Devaswom Board for violating Constitution in so far as the former prohibits women’s entry into Sabarimala Temple and asking for a rational explanation for the same (The Hindu, 12/Jan/2016) defies normal human comprehension. For, the learned judge is seeking an explanation of the spiritual by the temporal à la rationalist! He wants belief to be scientifically explained! Or, to caricature, what he is saying is, demolish temples if you cannot establish God’s existence!!
The venerable judge saw the petition by the young & women lawyers as just another civil suit wherein an aggrieved party approaches Court for redress. And such a case does obtain if the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) premeditatedly twisted the tradition to deny women’s entry into the temple. On the contrary, if the board is irreproachably following the tradition, given the extreme sanctity attached to such customs, no fault can be found with the board members. So, the petitioners, if they are devout enough to be vested with at least a modicum of respect for matters spiritual, should first verify, if the Board has been sincere in following the tradition ever since its inception. And, before forming a board for the temple, if it were to be managed by trustees, the young & women lawyers, permeated with a sense of Constitutional righteousness, should again look for evidence pointing to manipulation of the tradition to gain an unfair advantage by way of excluding women from entering into Sabarimala Temple.
It defies all logic to suggest that women could have been allowed 1500 years ago, and asking for proof if a contrary belief is held. Notice that if a Kerala High Court verdict, in 1991, upholding the tradition, did not deter Supreme Court from reconsidering the issue, how can the presumption that 1500 years ago Women could have been allowed into the temple be held against the present Board? If the learned judge does indeed believe so, the onus lies on him, not on the TDB, to find out how and when exactly this democratic tradition has been vitiated and for what ulterior purpose.
A pre-condition to such an investigation consists in an in-depth reading of all that is written about the presiding deity, Ayyappa, mythological as well as folkloric, to determine if there exists any evidence, verbal or narrative, direct or derivative, wherein the lord has shown, any time, an inclination to be away from women. It is one thing to say God belongs to all or that God’s grace is equanimous without distinction of color, creed, sex, rich/poor distinction, but it is altogether a different thing to understand and respect what we presume to be His likes and dislikes just as we make different offerings to different deities in terms of what we assume they like. So, if such evidence could be found, and on top of it, if the Board is not gaining anything by denying darshan to a large section of women, a case can neither be maintained against the board nor the tradition, begrudged.
As a matter of fact, the defense of Mr. K.K. Venugopal, Counsel for the TDB, points at such kind of legitimacy. Importantly, he states, “…the deity was believed to be celibate and in the posture of meditation. It was a religious custom not to allow women in menstruating age to enter the temple as that could disturb the deity” (Times of India.Indiatimes.com, Dhanajay Mahapatra, TNN, Jan. 12, 2016). It is a well-recorded position in our mythologies that even great sages like Viswamithra were disturbed in their tapasya or meditation by divine danseuses like Menaka. So there is nothing illogical if a tradition took root from such a belief and excluded women from entering the temple as the presiding deity is seen essentially to be meditating. And, it stands to reason that women at menstrual period are more prone towards temporal indulgences (as are also men, but overall such a state of affairs will have an adverse effect on maintenance of undisturbed spiritual ambience). Indeed, the ‘impurity’ attributed to menstrual discharge needs to be understood from such a standpoint. The ‘impurity’ talked about is probably not physical for women to frown upon or feel belittled.
It should not be lost sight off that by trying to settle their temporal goals (such as achieving absolute equality…) by disdainfully and through the instrumentality of temporal tools, setting aside an otherwise irreproachable procedure meant to testify one’s reverence and solemnity towards the lord, the young & women lawyers are only placing their SELF above the matters of faith.
It is indeed paradoxical that even as the petitioners argue for their right to worship, they have chosen a path that essentially vitiates the essential ingredient that constitutes the basic holiness of the spiritual relationship with god! It must also be said here that the Hindu spirituality lays down humility as one of the essential traits of a devotee. Indeed, it is this emphasis on human quality that distinguishes the Hindu perception of equality as a functional order interlaced with humanness in contrast to the Western concept of equality as a formal and symmetrical notion conceived essentially in view of socio-political arrangements. That is the reason why Hindu religion and Hindu Dharma create, under various pretexts, situations wherein worshippers are constrained to take the path of humility. This again would mean considering restriction of women at Sabarimala Temple as one such procedure and thereby constitutes an enlightened appreciation of the age-old custom as a manifestation of reverence towards the presiding deity.
Justice Dipak Misra is thus caught between two dissimilar objects of justice – one temporal and other spiritual. One concerns human-human relationship (equality of sexes), another, human-divine relationship, even presumed. In the former relationship parties to dispute are of the same status. Whereas the latter does not just grant a priori superior status to the divine but is built around it. That is the reason why it cannot be viewed purely from a human-human perspective. Doing so would only lead to destroying its specificity. That indeed signals the beginning of temporal degradation of the religion and spirituality. This would naturally lead to abandonment of the holistic character of this country.
If justice Dipak Misra insists upon judging the case in terms of Constitutional provisions in so far as they relate to equality between sexes, without understanding the specific nature of faith, he is doing grave injustice to this country’s cultural and ethical heritage. He would only be furthering Western-style, double-layered, analytical thinking in not just judicial matters but also in general perception. It is therefore necessary that the judiciary maintain the same kind of autonomous relationship with Religious and Spiritual domain as it does with the Legislature and Executive.
By Dr.Coddau Pratap