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A 620 km-long human chain

 
7 January 2019   |   India, women's rights, Indian Supreme Court
 

By Ravindra Chheda.

A huge rally against religious fundamentalism in the State of Kerala promoted by the Left Democratic Front. On the other hand, Modi’s federal government supports the traditionalist sectors that hinder the application of a ruling by the Supreme Court.

For several months, a rather heated dispute has been going on around one of the most famous sacred places attended by the Hindu faithful in Southern India.

It is the Sabarimala temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappan, one of the most popular Hindu deities in this big Asian country.

In this area of the State of Kerala, there is a common belief that Ayyappan killed the powerful demon Mahishi. Every year millions of faithful climb up to this mountain area of ​​Kerala, often walking for weeks with a downcast attitude, dressing in black, without washing, and eating as little as they can to prepare with a period of penance to the meeting to celebrate the divinity.

This religious place has been at the center of a dispute for months that, in fact, has lasted for years but it has recently undergone a resurgence due to a verdict of the Indian Supreme Court. In fact, a few months ago the latter decided that also women of childbearing age, who were forbidden to enter the temple, must be admitted, in the same way as men, old women, and girls who have not reached puberty.

Such decision of the highest judicial body of the country has provoked, on the one hand, the enthusiasm of women in general and, above all, among the associations involved in the recognition of their civil and religious rights. On the other hand, however, it triggered the reaction of traditionalists, in particular the Brahminical clergy and practicing Hindus who accuse the Supreme Court of going against the tradition and, therefore, profaning the sacredness of the place.

Kerala has seen in recent months tensions of various kinds around this dispute that, of course, also became a political issue. On several occasions, activists and women have rallied before the temple and even clashed with the police. By doing this, they generated a climate that is anything but suited to the traditional pilgrimages that take place especially in the winter months, when the less hot and humid climate allows pilgrims to walk for miles up the hill on top of which rises the Sabarimala temple.

As a matter of fact, women’s access to the temple, even if approved and sanctioned by the Indian Supreme Court, was effectively prevented by the thick cordons and pickets set up by traditional men and clergy.

In this context, the ruling party – Baharatya Janata Party (BJP) – has sided in favor of traditionalist positions, as Prime Minister Surendra Modi has recently affirmed. He underlined that certain practices related to places of worship such as Sabarimala are strictly connected to the tradition of Hindu religion and cannot, therefore, be easily cancelled even by a decision of the Indian judicial bodies.

On the first day of 2019, however, tens of thousands of women, but also men and young people, rallied once again in a unique way: they lined up along the road that leads from the city of Kasaragod up to Thiruvanthapuram, the capital city of the State of Kerala, in the extreme South of the Country.

This human chain covered 620 kilometers and the only breakdown occurred in Chettukundu, where some BJP activists created fights and clashes with both peaceful protesters and the police.

This unique event was backed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF), particularly strong in the State of Kerala, and it confirmed its political position against the religious fundamentalism of the BJP.

Participants in the human chain included women, girls, young people, housewives, working women, female artists, actresses, women professionals… Also many men joined the rally to show not only their solidarity but also their disagreement with old practices characterized by mental and cultural closure.

These groups are particularly active in Kerala, a State that is without any doubt at the forefront of the social promotion of women and against the casts system. In the last century, in fact, the casts system suffered a heavy defeat thanks to the activities carried out by Guru Narayan, a true national hero in this Southern Indian State. But it is clear that much still remains to be done.

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