ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Sabarimala Judgment and Its Opponents

A society that fails to internalise the value of gender justice is one that is lacking in self-respect.


The recent Supreme Court judgment on women’s entry into Sabarimala temple has both supporters as well as opponents. However, there are two visible trends among the latter. On the one hand, the Congress party has been inconsistent, with its Kerala unit having taken a stand that the party at the national level has not taken. And on the other, Hindutva parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have adopted a stand consistent with their support for the power that is entrenched in religious structures.

However, the grounds on which the adversaries of gender justice seem to be opposing the judgment are not only ethically flawed, but constitutionally perilous. This is evident in the recent statement made by the BJP chief, who is reported to have said that the Supreme Court should desist from pronouncing verdicts that cannot be implemented. This raises three questions. First, why is the BJP chief raising this doubt? Second, what is the commitment of the political parties, such as the Congress in Kerala, t0wards realising the goal of gender justice? And third, which social and political forces hold the capacity to enrich democracy by standing with the ­Supreme Court’s Sabarimala judgment?

The BJP president’s reaction to the Supreme Court judgment involves surreptitious scepticism. Following the judgment, the BJP president seems to be using the fear of a “public backlash” for two distinct purposes. First, he seeks to mobilise a section of Kerala’s public that is opposing the judgment. Desperate to realise the dream to capture power in Kerala, he has gone ahead with such mobilisation, thus undercutting its transformative potential and normative significance. Second, on more substantive grounds, the BJP president seems to have made the observation in order to avoid the question of how the public ought to be, particularly in its egalitarian thrust. In fact, the BJP and other members of the Sangh Parivar are not known for taking an interest in such transcendental questions. This studied lack may be because the BJP president and his mother organisation take more interest in the “past” rather than in the future. The constitutive morality in this “ought question,” therefore, would demand from the BJP that it must not just treat all human beings as equal, but also provide sites for the articulation of equality. Sabarimala temple, like sacred shrines of other religions, is one such site for the articulation of equality. In this regard, it is quite relevant to take our cue from Jotirao Phule, an outstanding thinker of modern India, who said that “Nirmik” (distinct from the idea of god) is in favour of equality, which is to be treated as the most sought-after virtue. For Phule equality is of cardinal importance both for women and men, who have the social and moral responsibility to fulfil the egalitarian vision of this “Nirmik.”

Generally speaking, the question of equality and justice needs to be seen as existing independent of and prior to any legal intervention. To put it differently, it is the members of civil society, and more importantly the political parties that operate within the formal political sphere, who are supposed to take the lead in terms of orienting the recalcitrant public towards gender equality. Any society aspiring to be decent has to be both sincere and sensitive in making efforts to create the background conditions within which equality and justice can be realised. Political parties need to treat gender equality and justice as a common good that has to be enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of sex, race, and caste. The parties in question have to rationally acknowledge the need to create public opinion against entrenched patriarchy that seeks to deny women the right to temple entry that men themselves have been enjoying for ages. Hence, on moral and ethical grounds, temple entry for women needs to be seen as the primary concern of the society, before it is taken to the legal system for deliberation.

The BJP president’s efforts to create a public to counter gender justice would encourage the patriarchy that is ingrained in the temple in question. The project of creating a regressive public would ultimately aid the entrenched patriarchy to consolidate its hold over the temple establishment, which would not be well disposed towards gender justice. It shows its power in imposing limits on the egalitarian aspiration of women and lower castes. When both political parties and people fail to respect the Constitution, the Supreme Court has to intervene for the protection of universal values such as gender justice. It is this failure of the party that makes it imperative for the Court to take initiatives in favour of women. Thus, the Sabarimala judgment is a reflection of the political parties’ inability to create social consensus on the question of gender justice. However, the determination demonstrated by the Left Democratic Front’s (LDF) government in Kerala to implement the judgment has to be duly acknowledged. Similarly, mass mobilisations spearheaded by the LDF and other lower-caste organisations seek to enrich the democratic content which is constitutive of the Supreme Court’s judgment. We need to look at the judgment as another important move in terms of transformative judicial activism. It is needless to mention that the Supreme Court judges have given their judgment in accordance with the guiding principles and the relevant provisions of the Constitution. It provides the normative standards to evaluate the Kerala Congress unit’s commitment to constitutional morality and the ideals of democracy. They should not only respect individuals’ rights as endorsed by the Supreme Court, but also treat the right to equality as a self-evident virtue.

Updated On : 12th Nov, 2018


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