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Sabarimala Fiasco Reveals Fragility Of Kerala's Much-Vaunted Progressiveness

Sabarimala Fiasco Reveals Fragility Of Kerala's Much-Vaunted Progressiveness

Not so very long ago, Sabarimala would have been an unknown entity outside Kerala. Now, this debate over gender bristles with implications on a host of questions relating to society, politics, law and religion across India.

Stare Case Photograph by AP

This story is about Ayyappa the devotee—the pilgrim named after the deity he’s about to meet. He is distinct from the throngs that journey to Badrinath, Vaishno Devi, Kashi or Tirupati. Firstly, it’s always a ‘he’—at least canonically so, by custom. But if the new law of the land takes precedence, he will lose that special status. The shock value in that news has scythed through the public imagination so forcefully that the tectonic ripples are being felt way beyond Kerala. It’s become one of those handful of cases in recent times where the Constitution of India has been interpreted by the other lordships—the venerable judges of the Supreme Court—in a way that runs counter to accepted custom or belief. Across religious lines, there was the Triple Talaq verdict in February 2017 and the opening up of the Haji Ali dargah to women by the Bombay High Court a year before that. Also, the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra. All these moments of transitions, created by pro-women verdicts, passed off relatively peacefully. Sabarimala, however, has upset the pattern; it’s a right royal conflagration. And it comes on the eve of the next big one. Next January, law and faith will encounter each other again, perhaps even more momentously, with the Ayodhya case. The ordinary Ayyappa may be oblivious to all this churning—events that will go into modern India’s noisy and disputatious history—as he ascends the final pathinettampadi (18 steps), magnificently plated in gold, chanting swamiyae sharanam ayyappa (In Lord Ayyappa I seek refuge). For, he is on the threshold of what he believes is a union with Godhead: Ayyappa himself.

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