The war for Sabarimala will not be won through nuanced arguments about diversity and balance. It will be won by using the same binary arguments that the left ecosystem uses to suppress Hindu religious institutions and spaces.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan may have lost one round in the battle for Sabarimala, but he is preparing to win the war. In the short period when Sabarimala opened this month, groups of Hindu women and Sangh activists, aided by some Congress party workers, managed to stop women in the 10-50 age group from gate-crashing the temple after the Supreme Court ended the ban in September.
But the next time, when the temple reopens on 17 November, Vijayan will be better prepared. According to a Times of India report today (25 October), Kerala will create online registrations of pilgrims so that new devotees can enter the temple only when previous ones leave; if there is an excess of entries, the new devotees will be asked to wait at the base camp.
Effectively, this kind of system will allow the state government to let devotees enter only in smaller, discrete lots. It will allow the state to escort some women that they want to smuggle in to break the will of the protesters. The last time, the protesters were organised and the state was not; the next time the state will be ready to thwart them.
What this should teach Hindus is a simple truth: their path to taking charge of their own religious affairs will not be helped by celebrating small tactical victories, but through a long-term strategy that focuses on winning the war. If Sabarimala is lost in the short term, either because of the Kerala government’s machinations or because the Supreme Court refuses to change its verdict of 28 September even after hearing 19 review petitions representing devotees, Hindus still need to fight on. The bigger battle may have begun at Sabarimala, but it will need a sound strategy to defeat Hinduism’s enemies, which include the left-Lutyens ecosystem.
Consider how well the left ecosystem has strategised for this war. It has focused exclusively on one simple principle that no one can argue against—equality and gender discrimination. Worse, they made the Sabarimala practice of keeping out women in the reproductive age group as some kind of gender crime similar to sati or triple talaq.
Now, consider how weak the arguments on the Hindu side sound; some have blabbered about menstruation, impurity, etc, probably alienating more women in the process, while the more sensible ones have talked about the unique traditions of the Sabarimala Ayyappa, who is a Naishthika Brahmachari, and how the rights of various denominations to have their own practices under Article 26 need equal respect.
In long-term battles, it is Abrahamic binarism that wins, for it allows focus on one central principle, and rejects all nuances. If Hindus want to win this war for control of their religious spaces, they have to adopt the same binarism and clarity of thought. We don’t need 100 weak arguments in support of our positions; just one or two strong ones will do.
So, if the opponents are using European equality principles to mow down Hindu sentiments, one should pay them back in their own coin.
Two arguments are unimpeachable, and both have Western secular origins.
First, we must insist on the separation of church and state. Hindus don’t accept this as their way of secularism, and often the lines between temple and state are blurred, but if a court is going to give greater validity to these kinds of arguments, we should use them. Thus, if Vijayan is going to leverage his control of the Travancore Devaswom Board to restrict pilgrim entry and smuggle in his own partisans the next time, we need to question the basic premise on how the state can control a temple in a supposedly secular state.
The gender binary argument—either you are for equality or against it—should be answered with secular binarism (either you are for state control of temples, or you are not). Let the Supreme Court first resolve this issue before deciding Sabarimala. In fact, when the hearings begin on 13 November on the review petitions, the first argument should be that the state government has no locus standi on Sabarimala unless it gets out of the Devaswom Board, which manages the temple. If the Board is a caged parrot, it cannot make a statement on behalf of devotees. Nor can the state. The petitioners should demand that the 28 September Sabarimala verdict should be stayed till the review petitions are heard, and the state government restrained from making any changes to the temple’s entry practices, including forcing online registrations, till then.
A related point: if the Constitutional issue is pitched as the larger issue of state control, the petitioners can fairly ask for a larger bench, comprising at least seven judges, so that the pro-entry judges are outnumbered by new ones who can hear the matter with a fresh set of ears. In any new bench, three of the four judges (except former chief justice of India Dipak Misra) who voted with the majority will remain on the new bench, with only the dissenting judge, Indu Malhotra, remaining to hold fort on behalf on Hindus. Another five-judge bench could thus mean a new 3:2 verdict upholding the previous verdict, which is a travesty. Hence the need to pitch the Constitutional issue at a higher level than merely Sabarimala.
If this argument is not won, Vijayan can then do many things to destroy Hindu unity. He can get rid of one or two stubborn priests from Sabarimala and put in more pliant ones, all in the name of implementing the law and the court’s verdict. Hindus should know from their past how easy it is to divide them. A strong-arm measure here and a bribe there, and we stand divided, losing sight of our common enemy. A Prithviraj Chauhan and a Jaichand will fight while Ghori is at the gates.
A second principle is to turn the argument of discrimination around. If Article 15 guarantees any citizen that he or she will not be discriminated against, it is even more important to argue that discrimination exists against the entire majority community—where only Hindu temples are taken over by the state, and their institutions the only ones to be meddled with.
It is this discrimination argument that needs to be won.
The war for Sabarimala will not be won through nuanced arguments about diversity and balance. It will be won by using the same binary arguments that the left ecosystem uses to suppress Hindu religious institutions and spaces. This time, Hindus need to offer stronger arguments, not more arguments, to free temples from state control. That is the war to be won. Sabarimala is not the war; it is one battle in a long war.