NEW DELHI — Bhakti Pasrija and Prerna Kumari, Supreme Court lawyers who filed the petition in 2006 demanding women be allowed to enter Sabarimala, received dozens of letters each early last year. While some, Pasrija said, were letters of encouragement, some others vehemently protested the women’s decision to file the petition. Twelve years since they first filed the petition, along with three other women, Kumari and two others — Sudha Pal and Laxmi Shastri — have changed their stance on women’s entry to Sabarimala. Kumari even attempted to withdraw her name from the original petition last year, but since the final arguments had been made, it was too late for her to do so, she told HuffPost India.
Pasrija, who was 28 at the time of the petition being filed, still stands by her decision. “I would have done the same if a temple was purified after a man had entered it. It’s against the dignity of a human being. A superstition is hurting the dignity of women at large,” she told HuffPost India. According to Pasrija, after the petition was filed, Alka Sharma, the fifth petitioner remained ‘silent’ and was never very involved in the proceedings.
A superstition is hurting the dignity of women at large
Kumari, on the other hand, now believes they “were misled by our colleagues only and true picture was not brought before us (sic)”. “Back then, I thought women in Kerala want to enter the temple and were being forbidden from doing so,” she said. Kumari said a male colleague approached them in 2006 and said that the women should do something about the Sabarimala issue. Kumari said that the man told them, “You guys are a member of the Supreme Court bar association and you are doing nothing about this issue. Jayamalaji visited the temple and purification took place.” The man, Kumari said, later became the advocate-on-record in the case.
Kumari said that back then she was not aware that there were other Ayyappa temples that women could visit.
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Pasrija’s recollection of why she filed the petition is a little different. She said that the reasons she was told why women aren’t allowed in the temple made no sense to her. She said she believed ‘Hinduism is an inclusive religion’ and it did not suggest women be excluded from a place of worship. “Also what is this narrative about a 10-year-old entering a temple could disturb a god’s celibacy. Religion is very spiritual and not like this,” she told HuffPost India.
Kumari said she attempted to withdraw her name only last year when all the arguments had concluded. While she added that her understanding of the issue changed over the 12 years since she filed the petition, it was only in the past year that she actively tried to change her official stance on the issue.
“Even when channels and news reporters contacted me after the Sabarimala verdict, I told them that I am with Justice Indu Malhotra’s dissenting judgment and do not stand by my earlier stance on Sabarimala,” she added.
I think what has happened now is women want to put their names in history, as ‘I was the first woman to enter Sabarimala’
Kumari explained that over the past year, she saw women protesting against women wanting to enter and realised women in Kerala did not want to enter the temple. “We live in north India. How many times we will go to Sabarimala? If at all, once, right? But the women who are there right now, if they wanted to go, it is up to them,” she said.
She said that she later came to know that many men are not allowed in certain temples. “So how can you call this discrimination?”
Adding that she had some information about the whole issue, but much of it was based on sources like “Barkha Dutt’s documentary” that did not give her a true picture of what people in Kerala feel.
She said that she later came to know that many men are not allowed in certain temples. “So how can you call this a discrimination?”
Kumari claimed that she received a letter in July 2018 from a woman devotee who informed her that there were women priests in temples and that in a state with 98% literacy, women knew what they were doing. Letters like those, combined with watching television debates convinced Kumari that her earlier stance on Sabarimala was wrong. Kumari also Googled and read up on the lores around ‘naishtika brahmachari’, associated with Ayyappa, Sabarimala’s presiding deity.
“I started watching TV debates. In some of the debates, I was even called a member of the RSS,” Kumari said, asserting she was not involved in politics at all even though her husband is associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She also served notices to channels to claimed she has a political agenda and tried to link her husband Siddharth Shambhu to the issue.
The lawyer added that she realised that the whole Sabarimala issue was ‘politically coloured’. On expressing that on social media, she said she was “badly trolled by leftist on my Facebook”.
Pasrija received letters too, some of which “cursed” her and warned her of the misfortunes that will befall her family for her deed. She ignored those letters but engaged with calls from people who often angrily asked why she had to meddle in others’ businesses. “I asked one man how he would feel if his 10-11-year-old child visited a place, especially a temple and then the people purify it? What does that say about how the people see the child?” Pasrija said. The man, she added, later came around.
The lawyer added that she realised that the whole Sabarimala issue was politically coloured. On expressing that on social media she said she was 'badly trolled by leftist on my Facebook'.
Pasrija, unlike Kumari and the rest, was also part of the Indian Young Lawyers’ Association, whose head Naushad Khan received constant death threats for a misled belief that he was behind filing the case.
In mid-2018, when the Sabarimala issue was heating up on breaking news channels and social media, Pasrija said Kumari approached her and said she has changed her opinion on the issue. Pasrija briefly engaged with her, but later Kumari said she did not want any part in it.
While the Sabarimala authorities’ efforts to purify the temple, after two women entered the temple on Wednesday, deepened Pasrija’s conviction that she was right to stand by her decision, Kumari feels it was unnecessary. “The matter is sub-judice now after a review petition was filed. You know Kerala is burning, why do you have to go now? Say there’s a conclusion to the review petition, things cool down a bit, then you go. I think what has happened now is women want to put their names in history, as ‘I was the first woman to enter Sabarimala’,” Kumari said.
However, she added that both sides need to make compromises and not resort violence.
Pasrija said that she felt vindicated by the Women’s Wall. “In which era are we living? A human being goes, and the presence of a human being makes the temple impure?”