Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | And the battle of faith versus law continues

Not bothering to delve deep into the question of faith challenging the equality of women ensured by the Constitution, the Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi referred a set of review petitions against an apex court verdict to a higher, seven-member bench. The September 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court had firmly lifted the ban on the entry of women of menstrual age to Sabarimala in Kerala. The verdict upheld the equality of women ensured by the Constitution.

But the Supreme Court’s observation, and the stand of the ruling Left government that it would give protection to women who wanted to enter Sabarimala, had unleashed a series of violent protests by a few Hindu organizations. And, the state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seized the “golden opportunity", to lead these protests. Sensing trouble, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) chose to side with the faith quotient of the devotees. The Sabarimala issue played a major role during the 2019 Lok Sabha election campaign in Kerala. The UDF walked away with 19 out of the 20 seats, while the BJP drew a blank. The ruling LDF, which stood by the Supreme Court verdict, was reduced to a single seat.

Though an election is an excellent platform to test the policies and approaches of various political parties with regard to political, social or economic issues, the court need not be bothered about elections or such challenges. The court has to uphold the law and the Constitution, and a judge is committed to the Constitution. In the recent judgement on Ayodhya, the Supreme Court had a tough time dealing with faith. But the verdict was in a way welcomed widely and all parties of the case agreed to go by the verdict. If at all a few Muslim organizations have some reservations on the verdict, they have decided to go for a review petition. But, Sabarimala is a different issue.

The Supreme Court, which has decided to refer the earlier verdict to a higher bench, hasn’t issued a stay order to the verdict, which simply means that the earlier order still stands—that women cannot be prevented from going to Sabarimala. But, if a woman wants to enter the hill shrine to offer prayers before the deity Lord Ayyappa, will the state and the police give protection to her? Will the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers jump at that woman in an attempt to safeguard the ‘faith’ and the ‘faithful’? This is rather a political question, and we will have to wait for the answer for a few weeks till the hill shrine opens its doors for the annual festival.

Jacob George is a senior journalist and a political commentator based in Kerala.

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