One of the petitioners in the Sabarimala Case, Adv Prerna Kumari, underlines the fact that she respects the sentiments of the women devotees of Sabarimala who are ready to wait till they turn 50 years of age
Though I was a petitioner in the said matter yet, I felt on a later stage that this was a journey filled with lessons and hardships. The road will not always be smooth; throughout our journey, we encountered many challenges. Some of these challenges tested our courage, strength, weakness and faith. To follow the right path, we must overcome these obstacles.
Devotees protesting against Kerala Government in Chengannur
Sometimes, these obstacles are blessings in disguise; only, we don’t realise that in time. And, I fell, due to the blessing of Lord Ayyappa, I came to know about centuries-old traditions. Earlier, I didn’t have a better understanding of the custom of tantric tradition being followed in Sabarimala. I must add and appreciate the verdict of honourable Ladyship, J Indu Malhotra. She correctly mentioned in her verdict that no one from that state had come forward as petitioner. It means she was right in saying that a clear picture of practice in Sabarimala temple was not brought before that court.
And, it’s true, as I was the one who only considered this issue as a gender bias /discrimination against women. But the fact of the case was very different as I came to know at a later stage that the women-devotees’ sentiments also want the tradition to continue. They do not bear any grudge against it.
I was approached by one of our senior colleagues in the year 2006 with some report in Media-particularly an article written by Barkha Dutt—that a purification ceremony was conducted in Sabarimala and the reason-an actress Jayamala had intended in the temple since women in menstruating age are not allowed inside the temple. I felt it was derogatory and that is how it triggered me to file PIL. The PIL was filed on July 28, 2006, by Indian young Lawyers Association to ensure entry of female devotees between the age group of 10 to 50 at Sabarimala Temple in, Kerala. I was independent petitioner and also holding the post of member executive of Supreme Court Bar Association at the time of filing PIL. The picture which was drawn before me was regarding discrimination and gender bias to women. I was not aware of the custom and practice which was performed in Sabarimala Temple. I was misinformed. Being non Keralite, I had not heard of Sabarimala. I was only informed about a temple that does not allow women to enter, though the women in Kerala want to enter.
Being a non-Keralite, I had not heard of Sabarimala. I was only informed about a temple that does not allow women to enter, though the women in Kerala want to enterLater on, I came to know that the South Indian actress Jayamala was proven to be wrong and women in Kerala began their fight to show their faith in a tradition of Sabarimala temple. It shook me badly as being of feminist I was fighting for the right of women of that particular state, and then I realised the duplicity and the treachery behind what seemed to be a discrimination between genderI approached this Hon'ble court because I felt the matter was purely based on discrimination and gender bias.
Later, I came to know about the real sentiments of women devotees. I also received a letter from Lord Ayyappa devotee stating that Kerala is a well-educated state and there are many other Lord Ayyappa temples where Ayyappa is in different forms and ladies are allowed to pray there, and the same also came in the verdict of Hon’ble Ladyship J Indu Malhotra where she said there are 1000 of Lord Ayyappa Temples in Kerala where ladies are permitted to pray. The devotee also added that Kerala is a state where there is lady priest who performs Puja and the devotee also mentioned that there are also some temples where men are not allowed to pray.
After going through the letter, I asked myself if this is the fact then why only Sabarimala temple is being targeted! Have I hurt sentiments of a large section of women devotees of the concerned state?
I did not want to hurt any sentiments. It was not that I wanted to shake anybody’s belief or wanted to shake religious practices or hurt anybody’s sentiments. What had happened was unintentional. I have a great respect for women devotees of the conceded state and that was the reason I wanted to withdraw myself from the petition but the Supreme Court had already seized the case.
It is pertinent to mention here that there were other forces also who wanted to enjoy the political gain (mileage) from their matter (case). I found Kerala Government repeatedly changed its stand on such a serious issue of women. I felt it was more prolifically coloured rather than a religious matter.
However, I agree with the dissenting opinion of Justice Indu Malhotra as she rightly pointed out that no petitioner from the said state had approached this Apex court. Rationality cannot be used to judge faith. All followers must be allowed to follow their own faith as per their own beliefs in secular polity. The right to equality claimed by the petitioners under Article 14 conflicts with the right of its worshippers of this shrine which is also a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 and 26 of the constitution. I bow down to the judgment of this Hon'ble court. No doubt, it is a historical judgment and various aspects of the majority opinion will have impact on various issues concerning women’s Right. However, in this case, the issue was mainly about faith and belief.
(The writer is a lawyer and was one of petitioners in the Sabarimala Case)