By Muhammed Sabith
04 January 2019
Credit: Special arrangement
The year 2019 began in Kerala with the
state immediately gripped by the spiraling conflict over the Sabarimala temple.
On January 1, the ruling front organised a
historic display of women’s strength and solidarity, the ‘Women’s Wall’. Until
this demonstration, women – who deserve to have a significant say on the
Sabarimala question – had remained largely invisible in a growing display of
power by men.
Millions of women formed a spectacular
human chain, stretching across more than 600 km and all 14 districts in the
state, to “preserve Renaissance values” of the state and promote women’s
Hours later, two women, with the help of
officials, entered the shrine – the first women of menstruating age to enter
the temple since the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to
exclude anyone based on their gender.
To ‘protest’ this entry and its perceived
violation of tradition and ‘purity’, the Sangh Parivar has been protesting
across the state, targeting women, journalists, police, public transport and
As violent disruption continued, The Wire
met a group of ordinary women who stood in the Women’s Wall. All of them – a
teacher, student, office staff and homemaker – expressed happiness about the
event, though their experiences and views were not the same.
Sheena P.P., an administrative staff member
at a hospital in Kannur, asked how the temple could become ‘impure’ because of
women. “The right to worship is equal for both men and women. No place will
become impure because a woman enters, and no woman will enter into a temple
during their period.”
The ongoing violent protests in the name of
women’s entry are “politically motivated”, she believes.
“Keralites enjoy more freedoms than people
in several other states…we have to preserve the freedom won by our
predecessors. There must be freedom both to enter and not to enter Sabarimala.”
For Sheena, the Women’s Wall also upheld
the value of secularism, as Muslim women participated in good numbers. “A
Muslim woman I know came with her three-month-old child in her arms,” she said.
“Every woman wants to resist the injustice and violence they face.”
Pravija, a homemaker from Kannur, said that
she felt “pride” while participating in the Wall, and that it was an
“inspiring” experience for her. “I participated because I value women’s
empowerment,” she said.
What stood out for her was the
participation of older women. “They came with their years of experience as
women. They shared their experience, and asked us to work for change.”
“God doesn’t discriminate between men and
women. Some try to ‘own’ God exclusively, but in the eyes of God, everybody is
equal,” Pravija said. She also said repeated Hartals should be avoided as they
unnecessarily affect livelihoods.
Rajasree R. who teaches Malayalam at
Government Brennen College in Kannur,
went to participate in the Women’s Wall not just as a woman, but “to
protect constitutional values”.
She also said the Wall was a continuation
of a legacy of women’s empowerment. “We could stand in the streets as a result
of struggles of various women in the past, without which the present movement
would have been impossible.” The Women’s Wall was “never meant to challenge any
faith or violate any tradition”.
According to Rajasree, many people who
first questioned the Wall finally supported it. Participation went beyond
political and religious boundaries. “Women always lived as two different
classes: women who enjoy several privileges and women who have neither
privilege nor voice,” she said. “The Women’s Wall gave the latter an
opportunity to be visible, to have their voice heard.”
Aysha Fida, a college student from Kannur,
was “really happy” to be a part of “this historic wall”. The Women’s Wall “has
given a reply to all the questions and misinterpreted statements made…on the
women in Kerala,” she said. “We are sure that this event is going to be marked
in golden letters in the history of the women’s movement.”
Wednesday’s women’s entry into the
Sabarimala temple was a “proud moment” and “just the beginning”. Aysha is
“hoping more women will fulfil their desire”.
On the violent retaliation that followed,
Fida said, “It is such a shame that still there are repressive forces in our
state. They are actually pulling our state down.”
The women who participated in the Wall,
according to Fida, were “upholding the values of Renaissance and gender
equality … The government has provided us a platform to speak our minds against
the patriarchy. Just like we have fought and overcome barriers in the past,
this event will help ensure equality and justice for women.”
Fida is confident that “the people of
Kerala will gradually overcome this and identify the real patriarchal and
repressive forces that are sidelining women and development in our state”.
Political Opposition To The Women’s Wall
The ‘wall’, largely organised by the ruling
Left Democratic Front alliance and supported by the state government, was
created to “preserve Renaissance values” and promote women’s rights, according
to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The ‘Kerala renaissance’ is a term that
refers to a series of socio-cultural reform movements within and across
religious and caste groups in the state. Starting in the 19th century, these
movements led to numerous changes, including ensuring the unrestricted entry for
‘lower-caste’ communities into temples.
While the state government and many
residents consider the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala to be a turning
point in the struggle for women’s rights, a section of devotees consider it to
be a violation of traditions.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan
congratulated on “the largest women’s movement in India, in which women came
forward both to protect rights guaranteed by the constitution and to resist
assaults on gender justice.”
The opposition United Democratic Front
distanced itself from the event. Ramesh Chennithala from the Congress, leader
of opposition in the state, said the event was organised by “misusing official
Muhammed Sabith is an independent journalist and academic.