Reshma Nishanth, who hails from Irinavu in Kannur district in Kerala, is at the centre of a storm as she is getting ready to become one of the first women to enter Sabarimala.
32-year-old Reshma has been taking Sabarimala vrat since 2006 despite knowing the fact that she cannot go there as women between the age group of 10 to 50 years are barred from entering the shrine. But this time, after the Supreme Court verdict came, she wore black dress and a garland of tulsi and rudraksha for the first time, ready to enter the shrine.
“I am determined to go to Sabarimala as the apex court has permitted it. I have taken vrat abiding by all its principles and values. The 41-day vrat will be completed by the commencement of the Malayalam month Vrishcika (Which starts on November 17),” she told this correspondent. Reshma herself had revealed this through her Facebook page and it became viral. But challenging the decade-old custom is no ordinary task and Reshma has started feeling the heat. She had to resign from her teaching job at an unaided college in Kannur due to the showering of abuses on her way to college. “My husband or relatives cannot escort me to the college on all the 41-days. Hence I quit the job,” she says.
A group of people claiming to be Ayyappa devotees led a torch-light protest march to her house on the night of October 14. Some people on social media alleged that ‘she wants to be popular at the cost of maligning Hindu religion.’ Some claimed ‘she is a puppet in the hands of the Communist party to abuse Hindu dharma’.
But Reshma is unfazed. “I didn’t view it as a revolution. But my one little step will give encouragement to lakhs of women devotees in future. There is no gender divide in beliefs nor is Lord Ayyappa anti-woman. I request the support of the public in the journey towards gender equality,” she said. On menstruation, Reshma says that she takes it as a discharge of body just like urine and stool.
As the Sabarimala temple opens for darshan on October 17, several women, under the aegis of various Hindu outfits have started searching vehicles at Nilakkal (75 km of Sabarimala) to prevent the entry of women to Sabarimala. The agitated women even stopped women journalists going to Pampa (base camp of Sabarimala) on Tuesday. However, amidst such threats, Reshma pins hopes on the state government.
The Left ruling government in Kerala has made its stand clear that it would not go for review petition of the Supreme Court verdict but will ensure police protection for the women pilgrims. Reshma is planning to go to the Lord Ayyappa in the company of a few other women Ayyappa swamis.
Reacting to her CPI(M) relation, she admits that her village is a party-village and her husband, Nishanth Babu, a cooperative bank employee, is a CPI(M) member. “My belief has nothing to do with the party. No God has shown discrimination against women. The writing on the shrine at Sabarimala is ‘Thatwamasi’ which meant ‘That is You’ and not ‘That is men’,” she clarifies.
Due to strong objection at her native place, Reshma is now planning to have ‘Kettum Nira’ (The ritual where the Ayyappa devotee prepares his/her bag to go to Sabarimala) at another place. Besides Reshma, there are many more women who are observing vrat to tread the difficult terrain of Sabarimala. Media personality, Liby C.S, Kozhikode native, Soorya Devarchana, are some of them and all of them are facing severe abuses from the self-claimed devotees.