BJP President Amit Shah's speech in Kerala using, typical of his style, the language of a school bully, should be seen as a direct assault on the Supreme Court of India. He said that courts should not give orders which cannot be implemented. Although he was speaking on the Sabarimala judgement reversing the ban on women's entry into the temple, what he said has wider implications.
For example, this week the court is to hear a petition concerning the Ayodhya issue. Is this an "advance" ominous warning to the apex court: do as we want or face the consequences of your orders being flouted? Following his party chief, Adityanath, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, has already commented that if the court can rule on Sabarimala, it can also for Ayodhya. The link is clear enough.
In the years of the Modi Government with Amit Shah at the helm of the ruling party, this country has witnessed leaders of the ruling party and government leading the charge against the constitution of India, against the autonomy of institutions and the subverting of even constitutionally-mandated bodies to the interests of the ruling party. The shocking and shameful developments regarding the CBI and the blatant steps taken to protect not the organisation, but to subordinate it to political requirements of those in power, shows that this government is arrogant enough to believe that it can get away with all such transgressions. Earlier, in an unprecedented press conference, four senior justices of the Supreme Court had voiced their concern about the need to protect the independence of the judiciary, precisely because of government interference. Now Amit Shah has taken this a step further by directly threatening the court.
The hypocrisy and double standards as far as respect for elected governments are concerned is equally evident. While Arun Jaitley makes a veiled criticism against the court intervention in the CBI matter saying that decisions of elected governments have to be respected on the principle of accountability, on the same day, his party president Amit Shah threatens the elected government in Kerala that it will be thrown out because it is defending the Supreme Court judgement. In fact, the present central regime has taken steps which undermine the rights of states and elected non-BJP governments which inflict serious damage to the constitutional framework of a federal structure. Amit Shah's threats in Kerala should be seen in that context.
He likened the situation in Kerala to the Emergency. He was reacting to the arrests of 2,000 persons against whom the police have credible and direct evidence of being involved in the forcible prevention of women who wanted to go to the temple. Amit Shah himself has openly admitted that these are BJP workers. So there should be no misunderstanding that ordinary devotees are being arrested. A sample of some of the highly provocative statements made by those who Amit Shah defends is from the leader of the so-called Ayyapa Dharma Sena, Rahul Easwar. Out on bail, he announced at a press conference, "There is provision to close the temple if there is a failure in rituals. We also need a Plan B and Plan C… I am saying this openly. If any one woman between the ages of 10 and 50 tried to enter the temple with the help of the police, about 20 people were ready to make a cut on their hand and shed blood. If that happens, the temple would have to be closed for three days (on account of desecration). There is no need to open it no matter who says so… If blood or urine falls on the temple, it has to be closed." He is the grandson of the main Tanthri (priest) of the temple and he declares that he is prepared to desecrate the temple with urine and blood to keep women out. These are the criminal anti- temple activities being defended by Amit Shah.
He is mistaken if he thinks the Kerala government is like the one he runs in Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, after the violence connected with Bhima Koregaon events, the ring leaders belonging to right-wing Sangh Parivar organisations were exonerated and hundreds of Dalits were arrested using draconian laws against them. In contrast, the Kerala government has identified the organised trouble makers, none of whom are ordinary devotees, and is taking action against them.
Since the BJP president is against the judgement of the Supreme Court, why does he not go to the Supreme Court in a review? Instead, when the president of the ruling party incites violence against a court judgement and against a government led by an opposition party which upholds the court judgement, is this not the real face of authoritarianism? And these are not just words. The violence and hooliganism directly encouraged and supported by the BJP-RSS saw men attacking and burning the ashram of Swamy Sandeepananda Giri because he has differed from the BJP-RSS and taken a stand in support of the SC judgement. This attack on a widely-respected Swamy also exposes the reality that for the BJP-RSS, it is only the RSS' Hindutva which is to be promoted and other men and women of the Hindu faith who differ from them will be attacked.
As far as the Sabarimala temple is concerned, keeping women out is not "an ancient practice" since "the deity is celibate" as claimed by Amit Shah and the BJP. There was no blanket ban on women of fertile age going into the temple until 1991 when the Kerala High Court, acting on a complaint by an individual named S Mahendran, gave an order that henceforth, no woman aged between 10 and 50 can go to the temple. However, the judgment itself gave examples of how women, including the then Maharani of Travancore in 1940 and others, had not only worshipped at the temple but participated in many temple ceremonies. The judgment said: "There was thus no prohibition for women to enter the Sabarimala temple in olden days, but women in large number were not visiting the temple. That was not because of any prohibition imposed by Hindu religion but because of other non-religious factors. In recent years, many worshippers had gone to the temple with lady worshippers within the age group 10 to 50 for the first rice-feeding ceremony of their children (Choroonu). The Board used to issue receipts on such occasions on payment of the prescribed charges." Yet a ban was imposed.
When the Supreme Court overturned this ban, the RSS spokespersons in Kerala had actually publicly welcomed it. This makes it clear that the subsequent opposition and u-turn has nothing to do with religious belief. Once the RSS-BJP combine saw the protests of one section of people against the judgement, it felt it could utilize this to hit several targets. The Supreme Court is one. The LDF government in Kerala which has stood firm against the combine's attempts to inject its communal poison into the polity is another target. Progressive forces across political, caste and religious lines who stand for social reform and against Manuvadi ideologies are another clear target of this RSS-BJP's opposition. Amit Shah says that women's entry into temples cannot be considered a question of equality. This is similar to the upper caste reasoning which has kept Dalits out of many temples even today and which has led to violence against all those Dalits seeking to worship there. The understanding against women's entry is based on the Manu Smriti concept of purity/impurity which holds menstruating women and untouchables equally impure.
A Dalit may choose to worship in a temple or not, that is an individual choice. Similarly a woman believer may or may not want to go to the Ayyappa temple. A woman in her menstrual cycle may choose not to visit any temple at that time. Again, these are personal choices. But to prevent Dalits forcibly from worshiping at a temple or to ban women from entering a temple because she is of fertile age is, as noted by the Supreme Court, against the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.
The people of Kerala and indeed the people of India need to help teach constitutional values to Amit Shah and the party he leads.
Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.
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