In a bid to cash in on the sentiments of Hindu voters ‘hurt’ by the entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple, the Congress has promised to enact a law that will deal with any violations of tradition at the shrine, if the United Democratic Front (UPF) comes to power.
The party on Saturday (February 6) released a draft of the legislation that proposes imprisonment up to two years for those violating customs at the shrine.
“The Congress wants a legislation to protect the age-old traditions at the temple. Violation of the traditions or any act challenging the traditions, as per the proposed legislation, would be reckoned as a cognizable offence. It would be known as the Sabarimala Ayyappa Devotees (Protection of Religious Rights, Customs and Usages) Act, 2021. Both the Centre and the state have rights to make legislation on the issue and if voted to power, the Congress in Kerala will introduce a law to protect the customs at the temple,” senior Congress leader Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan said at the press conference, as quoted by Indian Express.
The legislation will give complete powers to the chief priest to take decisions on rituals, customs and practices to be followed at the temple. The ban on unauthorised entry will be imposed by the Travancore Devoswom Board in consultation with the chief priest, also known as ‘tamtri’.
The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in 2018 had allowed women of all ages to visit the ancient shrine, breaking years of tradition barring the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50. Following this, a series of review petitions were filed opposing the verdict and the apex court had referred those to a nine-judge bench.
Even though the LDF government had facilitated the entry of women to the shrine after the apex court’s verdict, the act earned it disrepute and criticism from devout Hindus, somewhat leading to its poor performance in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
According to IE, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, cashing on the silence of the LDF government on the issue, has made “the protection of traditions and customs at the temple” the focal point of his current tour of the state ahead of the polls.
“It is a matter that has hurt lakhs of devotees. The issue is still alive as the CPM government is not ready to protect the interests of the faithful. Around 50,000 devotees are facing cases, registered by the government during their protests against entry of young women. How can devotees forget the matter when they are fighting cases?” Radhakrishnan told IE.
The LDF and BJP have termed the Congress’ proposal as an ‘election stunt’. However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has said that the government is awaiting the final verdict of the nine-member bench of the Supreme Court.