In an exclusive interview to The Lede, Kanaka Durga, one of the first women to trek Sabarimala says she expects a positive verdict
“We women expect that the Supreme Court of India will issue a verdict upholding the Constitutional tenets of equality while considering the review petitions of Sabarimala women entry on November 14.”
This is what Kanaka Durga, the first woman to trek Sabarimala, with Bindhu Ammini this year on January 02, told The Lede ahead of the Supreme Court verdict expected on Thursday.
In an exclusive interview with The Lede, Kanaka Durga said that she and other women were not expecting a verdict which would derail the principles of equality.
“How can a court ignore the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution?” she asked.
In the Sabarimala case, a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi will deliver judgement on Thursday at 10:30 am on petitions, including 56 review petitions, four fresh writ petitions and five transfer pleas that challenged the 28 September 2018 order, seeking review of its September 2018 order that allowed menstruating women to enter the shrine in Kerala.
In September 2018, the apex court had ordered that women of all ages must be allowed into Sabarimala Ayyappa shrine in Kerala, ending a centuries-old ban on women and girls between 10 and 50 years.
Women and girls aged between 10 and 50 were denied entry into Sabarimala, to protect the deity Ayyappan’s celibacy.
The 75-page verdict issued, read that biological or physiological reasons cannot be accepted in freedom for faith.
“Religion is basically way of life; however, certain practices create incongruities,” the verdict added.
As the verdict sparked a series of protests in Kerala, The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), that manages the Sabarimala shrine, argued that the court cannot intervene in a century-old belief.
However, a five-member constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had reserved its decision on February 06 after hearing various parties including those seeking re-consideration of the judgement in an open court.
The Kerala government led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) had supported the verdict saying courts can set aside religious practices which are against fundamental rights.
Women petitioners, supporting the verdict, had also argued that women being barred because of menstruation is discrimination and against the Constitution.
When asked if she anticipated a faith-based verdict similar to Ayodhya case, Kanaka Durga said that she did not expect such a verdict in the Sabarimala women entry case.
“Ayodhya case is different. There, fundamental rights were not questioned. Here in the Sabarimala case, the question is whether women and men have equal right to worship or not. So we are expecting a verdict which will not let us down,” Kanaka Durga added.
When asked whether the CPM-ruled Kerala government took an unclear stand on the Sabarimala women entry, she said that she did not want to comment.
“I don’t want to comment on that now and I don’t have plans to trek Sabarimala this year,” she added.
On January 01, the Kerala government organised a Women Chain in Kerala to lobby for a renaissance movement supporting equal rights in the state.
And interestingly, it was early in the morning of January 02 that Kanaka Durga and Bindhu Ammini managed to trek Sabarimala becoming the first two women to defy the rule of no-women-entry.
Kanaka Durga and Bindu had attempted to trek Sabarimala on 24 December 2018. However, they were forced to return due to protests by right wing groups in Sabarimala on that day.
Meanwhile, Shreyas Kanaran from Renaissance Kerala to Sabarimala, a movement which stands up for gender equality, told The Lede that they are not expecting a verdict similar to the Ayodhya case here.
“The Ayodhya case verdict can be seen as a faith-based one. But here the issue is different. Here, it is about gender equality and the right to pray. So, we are not expecting a faith-based verdict here,” Kanaran said adding that they are waiting for Thursday’s verdict anxiously.
Last year, Renaissance Kerala to Sabarimala had been vital in promoting women’s entry to Sabarimala.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on 18 January 2019, the Kerala government had said that 51 women, aged between 10 and 50, have entered the Sabarimala temple following the Supreme Court verdict on 28 September 2018.
The state Director General of Police, on behalf of the Kerala government, submitted the names and details of the 51 women in the affidavit.
The names suggested that most of these women are not from Kerala, but from neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
“A total of 16 lakh devotees had registered this year. Of these, 8.2 lakh devotees visited the shrine. In this regard, it is submitted that a total of 7,564 women between aged 10 and 50, had also registered for the darshan, and as per the digitally scanned records, around 51 women in this group have already visited the shrine and had darshan without any issue,” the affidavit read.
However, later on media reported that the age of women mentioned in the affidavit were not in fact true as claimed by the Kerala government.
Talking to the media, MT Ramesh, Kerala BJP general secretary, said that they are expecting a favourable judgement respecting the faith of believers from the court tomorrow.
“If the verdict is a non-favourable one, we will look for Constitutional remedies,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Kerala police has decided to deploy 10,017 officers in and around Sabarimala for this festive season.
The deployment will be done over five phases starting from November 15. The temple opens on November 16 for the Mandala Pooja festival.