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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Panel Discussion With Team ‘People For Dharma’ On Sabarimala Issue –

#ReadyToWait is a campaign initiated by a group of women devotees from Bharat, explaining their willingness to respect the traditions regarding entry to the renowned Sabarimala temple located in the state of Kerala. It started as a social media campaign, but soon it went viral and garnered support from various sections of people. People For Dharma, the society registered by founders and supporters of #ReadyToWait is currently a part of Sabarimala PIL case in the Supreme Court saying they are not against the traditional customs and restrictions, and are ready to wait till the age when they are allowed to enter the temple, that is at the age of 50.

The team members of People For Dharma (PFD) – Shilpa Nair (Top left), Aishwarya (Top right), Kedar Nath (Bottom left), Ravilochanan (Bottom center) and Aravind G (Bottom right)

Hindupost recently interacted with these members of “People For Dharma” as a panel discussion . Smt. Shilpa Nair, who is currently the President of “People For Dharma”, is a Malayali entrepreneur based in Dubai. She is the Managing Director and CEO of Blue Bird Packaging Industries LLC. She is also a person who has tasted success in the field of arts, being a trained classical vocalist and dancer. Smt. Aishwarya, is currently the Secretary of the society. Founding members of the society, Shri. Ravilochanan is working with Citi Bank and Shri. Kedar Nath is working as a Senior Design Engineer in a private firm. Aravind G, the Treasurer, is pursuing his engineering degree.

The sabarimala issue has been in the headlines for quite a few months now with many national media houses calling out for the ban on its traditional practice. But despite of it you are being supported by a large number of people from different political affiliations. What do you think is the reason for it?

Shilpa: Our cause is related to Hindu dharma and its age old traditions which we consider to be worthy of respect. Any person who has faith, irrespective of their political affiliations, will not like to see their Lord being insulted with words like misogynist. Also, the common feeling was that the customs of the native civilization should only be left to the devotees of the temple. The cultural attack here is directed towards the feelings of the devotees of Ayyappa who are not bound to any single political affiliation, and hence when we people described our stand, devotees of Ayyappa started supporting us leaving aside their political differences.

The media houses have been trying to establish the ReadyToWait campaigners as people provoked by Rahul Easwar and Devaswom. What is your opinion about this?

Aishwarya: We don’t need any provocation to stand for dharma, to stand for what we consider as right. We have contacts with neither Rahul Easwar nor Devaswom on this issue. We represent our views and we stand for our own side. Rahul Easwar and the Devaswom are representing themselves and their reasons are known to them.

Your campaign is focused on the fact that devoted women are ReadyToWait. But on the other hand, the mainstream media and RightToPray campaigners are asking for lifting the ban which is existing on the women devotees who are wishing to enter the temple. What is your say over this?

Shilpa: Those who have faith are expected to follow the rules and regulations of a temple. Once cannot claim that he/she doesn’t have faith in the temples and traditions but then claim the right to enter the said temple. Hinduism is a pagan tradition and diversity is one of the main pillars of our tradition. We have temples like Attukal, Chakkulaththukkavu etc. where women have certain privileges which are denied to men. Similarly, we have a Sabarimala where seemingly men have lesser restrictions. If these women really have faith in Ayyappa, then they can visit him at any of his other temples which are present in this country. Ayyappa, at Sabarimala, has stated his will through Devaprashnam about this issue of women entry and as believers we expect those who enter the temple to adhere to it.

Another point raised by certain people asking for the lifting of this ban is the non-existence of such traditional practice in temple dedicated to gods like Hanuman, who are also brahmacharis considering the fact that the traditional practice in Sabarimala is based on the deity being in the form of a naishtika brahmachari. Why does such a practice exist only in Sabarimala?

Ravi: The shastras are very clear about brahmacharya. While in colloquial parlance, any unmarried person is called as a brahmachari, as per the shastras Brahmacharya is a vrata which is observed by a student during his gurukula vasa. In Sabarimala, Ayyappa is considered as a student who is undergoing his brahmacharya vrata and the shastras forbid a brahmachari student from having any contacts with women. This is translated into the practice at Sabarimala when women of ovulating age are debarred from having darshan of Ayyappa. Whereas Hanuman is not a student. He has graduated and is considered a snataka by the dharma shastras. A snataka has no such rules barring him from meeting women.

Certain feminists are of the view that the practice existing in sabarimala promotes gender discrimination. What do you think about it?

Aravind: There is no gender discrimination in the practice followed in Sabarimala because there is no total restriction for women entry. Only women aged between 10-50 years are not allowed to visit this temple. The women below 10 years and above 50 years are allowed to have the darshan of Ayyappan. The reason behind the restriction on the entry of women of a particular age group into the Sabarimala temple is simple. Pilgrims to Sabarimala are expected to observe strict `Vrata’ of 41 days. It is called ‘Mandala Vrata’. For a woman, this may not be possible as her menstrual cycle, repeats every month and interferes with Vrata. Since, Ayyappa at Sabarimala is a Naishtika Brahmachari, the energy in the temple may create an imbalance in the natural creative energy present in women of reproductive age, if they are repeatedly exposed to those energies over long period. This may in turn prevent grihasta women from effectively doing their duties. Hence, only those who are yet to attain puberty or those who have already reached menopause undertake the pilgrimage. Also, the Attukal Bhagavathy temple near Thiruvananthapuram allows only women to peform pongala which will be given as prasadam during its festival without the participation of men. So, there is no substance to the argument of gender discrimination in this practice of Sabarimala.

Some people are equating the traditional practice of sabarimala with Triple Talaq, Sati etc., calling it a regressive practice created by stone-age folk. What is your answer to such a comparison?

Kedar: To compare any social evil with Sabarimala issue is not sensible. No women is becoming a destitute due to her not being able to enter the temple. No one can claim that this practice is physically harming them. As we have already stated before, diversity is one of the main pillars of our traditions. Are we going to claim that Kanya pooja during Navaratri is a case of gender discrimination? Even within Kerala we have given examples of temple where women are given more privileges. Such senseless comparisons seem to suggest that the opponents severely lack logic.

Is People For Dharma a society created to fight this particular case or will it be entering many such legal battles in future considering that you are already involved in one such battle regarding the alleged christian wedding which took place in a marriage hall belonging to a temple in Chennai?

Aishwarya: While one of the major objectives of the creation of the society is indeed taking up the case of traditions at Sabarimala, we are not restricted to it. We are taking up other issues which we feel pertain to Hindu religious traditions and practices for protection of Hindu interests. We are also getting requests from others for our support. In such matters, we are planning to act and intervene wherever it is possible for us.

-Are you in touch with other people like Rahul Easwar who support your stand in this case?

Shilpa: No, we are not in touch with anyone else for this case. As we have clarified before, we stand on our own and for our convictions. We have not approached anyone else on this issue.

Recently a picture of women below the age of 50 entering the temple was going viral in social media. Have you taken any action over this issue?

Shilpa: There were indeed some claims and then it was countered by the Devaswom who stated that none of the women were below 50. Mere young looks cannot be considered as evidence for age. The country is filled with beauty parlors and saunas which women do like to visit. So mere rumor mongering based on a couple of pictures cannot be taken very seriously. Still we have filed an RTI on this issue to the Devaswom board asking for clarification and we are awaiting their reply.

Why do u think for 40 long years there was no legal ban on women in sabarimala? Do u think that lady officer in charge was in some way responsible?

Ravi: Each temple has its own traditions and the masses adhere to such traditions. Problems arise when government interferes in temple affairs and some government officials unilaterally try to bulldoze the existing practices or impose their wishes. Any violation of this tradition at Sabarimala must be ascribed to the callous attitude of government officials who were administering the temple. The devotees had to approach the court and get an order from the high court in order to force the government machinery to ensure that there is no violation of the rules. So a legal intervention was sought by the devotees because of government’s failure to uphold temple practices. Ideally this question should be put to the government as to why it requires a court order to properly follow and not intervene in a temple’s traditional practices.

(Featured Image Credit : The Hindu)

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