03/01/2019 6:04 PM IST

Contempt Of Court? Sabarimala Purification Ritual After Women's Entry Kicks Up Controversy

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called for the priest to quit his post if he could not abide the top court’s orders.

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The priest closes doors at the Ayyappa shrine at the Sabarimala temple after performing 'purification' rituals following the entry of two women on 2 January 2019.

At roughly 10:30 am on Wednesday, the chief priest of Sabarimala temple closed its doors for an hour to conduct purification rituals.

The move kicked up a furore in the state and reached the doorsteps of the Supreme Court which on Thursday refused an urgent hearing on a petition seeking contempt proceedings against the priest.

Priest Kandaru Rajeevaru performed the purification rituals hours after two women entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple on Wednesday. They were the first to enter the temple offer prayers after Supreme Court verdict allowing women off alleges to worship at the shrine.

“Being the chief priest, I am duty-bound to follow the ritualistic practices at Sabarimala,” Rajeevaru told The Hindu.

Quit, says Kerala CM

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called for the priest to quit his post if he could not abide the top court’s orders. “He can personally say I can’t abide by this court order, but then he cannot hold this post. It is up to the Travancore Devaswom Board, whether to open or close the doors of the temple. The priest’s move is not just a violation of court orders but also of TDB rules,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

TDB president A Padmakumar told Indian Express, “We are against the action of the thantri (priest). Before shutting the temple, he should have consulted the Board, which runs the shrine. Instead, he just called me and said the shrine would be closed for purification and hung up.” 

CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said contempt of court proceedings should be initiated against the priest.

A collective of leading writers, intellectuals and academicians — including MGS Narayanan, Sunil P Ilayidom, Rafeek Ahmed, and K Satchidanandan — has called for legal action against the priest. “By recognising it as a contempt of court and extremely casteist in nature, we demand that the government take necessary legal action against the chief,” the collective’s statement said

Priest 100% right, says Congress

The leader of the opposition, Congress’s Ramesh Chennithala said the entry of the women into the shrine “hurt” the sentiments of devotees. Backing the priest, he said the closure of the temple for the purification ceremony was “100% right”.

Meanwhile, the Nair Service Society, which has filed a review petition against the SC verdict thanked the priest. “On behalf of devotees, I extend my gratitude to the thantri and royal families for initiating steps to close the sanctorum and for conducting remedial measures,” NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair said.

What the SC verdict says

In his observations in the SC verdict, Justice DY Chandrachud had called the ban on women of menstruating age “a form of untouchability”.

“The stigma around menstruation has been built up around traditional beliefs in the impurity of menstruating women. They have no place in a constitutional order. These beliefs have been used to shackle women, to deny them equal entitlements and subject them to the dictates of a patriarchal order. The menstrual status of a woman cannot be a valid constitutional basis to deny her the dignity of being and the autonomy of personhood. The menstrual status of a woman is deeply personal and an intrinsic part of her privacy. The Constitution must treat it as a feature on the basis of which no exclusion can be practised and no denial can be perpetrated. No body or group can use it as a barrier in a woman’s quest for fulfilment, including in her finding solace in the connect with the creator,” he said.

“To treat women as children of a lesser god is to blink at constitutional morality,” he added.