On 13th November, the Supreme Court will hear petitions challenging its Sabrimala Verdict. Last week Sabarimala temple opened for a day and Kerala deployed a 2000 strong police force for this day. 2000. Their priorities were quite evident.
A communist government is going all out to ensure that women devotees get Sri Ayyappa’s darshan as early as possible. Wonder if anyone sees the irony in there, but then we live in interesting times.
Which brings me to the topic at hand. The reason behind temple specific practices of Sabarimala and of the celibate nature of Sri Ayyappa have been explained in hundreds of articles. The mainstream media, however, turned a blind eye to all of it.
Time and again the temple specific ritual is reduced to a debate on patriarchy. Why is it that people are just not listening? They are not listening because they don’t want to listen.
This is an attempt to profile these different mindsets to understand why they will never listen.
The Sadistic Liberal
I recall a dialogue from a recent movie, “Bhai, agli baar teri dukhti rag milegi na to hum use dabayenge nahi, balki uspar khade rehke bhangda karenge”.This dialogue aptly describes the motivation for my first mindset,‘The Sadistic-Liberal’.
The sadistic liberal has reached the pinnacle of evolution and as part of the process has also developed a bitterness for religion. The sadistic liberal feels that religion and bhakti is down market and it is his fundamental duty to trample on it.
He firmly believes that religion is the root cause of all evil and the world will be a peaceful place if religion simply disappears one day. He will continuously question and shame the devotee for his way of life while at the same time seek the privilege of ‘personal choice’ for his own way of life.
Can we expect him to show any empathy towards the devotee who is emotionally invested in Sabarimala and its traditions? Of Course, not. “I will visit Sabarimala because I can” is the motto here (Subtext: because it irks you and that pleases me). An evolved variation of this type is one whose rebellious rational minded interference is limited only to indigenous Indian practices.
The second participant who can never understand the traditions of Sabarimala, is the ‘The Closet-Khap’. He wears his set of imported coloured glasses and insists that everyone does the same. Wearing these glasses every debate can be reduced to a 1970s movie template where the righteous victim has to triumph over a privileged gloating evil adversary. Hence everything is reduced to a battle – between the haves vs have-nots, good vs evil, rich vs poor, modernity vs conservativeness, man vs woman and right vs wrong.
He needs a struggling victim, more than what the victim needs him because if there isn’t a problem, how will he pretend to solve it, how will he preach and sell his moral code if society does not need one. His existence depends on societies perceived victimhood if there is none he will create one. Hence, he will continue to wear his glasses, disregard history, complex concepts and traditions behind a cultural norm and insist on classifying Sabrimala practices as a case of patriarchy.
Our third mindset is ‘The Opportunist’. The title is self-explanatory, lesser spoken about him the better. The concern here is not to find an amicable solution to Sabarimala but to benefit from the situation (Read: convert emotions into votes or 9-11 PM TRP’s).
He asks the most pertinent questions with respect to the traditions of Sabarimala. “God loves, everyone, how can he hate women?”, “God is for everyone, how can he discriminate”. At a casual level, these questions are perfect. However, this is a classic monochromatic mindset – he has an idea of one type of god, one type of religion and every other god has to fit within that definition.
His own beliefs are guarded under the protective shield of ‘faith’ but every other idea of worship which is different than his will be subjected to reasoning and logic until it finally succumbs to his idea of worship. His is a very rudimentary framework for the vast Indian polytheistic structure.
Not every diverse practice is a case of injustice
We worship divinity in its various forms and thus the mode of worship for each form is also different. Shiva can be worshipped as a householder or a recluse. Krishna can be worshipped as a natkhat from Gokul or the one talking to Arjun on the battlefield. Adi Shakti is worshipped in various different forms on the 9 nights. Each form has its significance, method and a mantra dedicated to her.
Similarly, a Bhrahmachari will also be worshipped in that specific form. But our monochrome does not understand or feel the need to understand all this. For him, there can only be one way of worshipping, the right way, that is his way. The monochrome does not celebrate diversity, he only tolerates it until he gets an opportunity to transform it into his monochromatic worldview.
Injustice is present in our society, the crime rate also is on the increase. There are real problems around which need attention. But not every diverse practice is a case of injustice. Diversity is to be celebrated. Diversity lends a colour to life. We are diverse because our broad-minded polytheistic outlook has cultivated and nurtured diversity.
But diversity cannot survive without exclusion and our constitution builders identified this need (article 26). This kind of an exclusion gives people the incentive to maintain their unique practices. When exclusion is taken away, it is difficult to maintain uniqueness and hence diversity will suffer. As long as the above mindsets dictate our public decision making, we will continue to look at Sabarimala practice as a case of patriarchy without trying to understand the story behind it.