Nero fiddled while Rome burnt…
by P M Ravindran on 04 Nov 2018 11 Comments

Remembering the above quip in the context of the events that have unfolded in Kerala post the Sabarimala verdict of the apex court on September 28, 2018 is not just coincidental. It was a 4:1 judgment of a bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, himself. The majority opted to rule in favour of a cosmetic notion, touted as gender equality. Cosmetic, because the restriction in Sabarimala is not a matter of gender discrimination as girls below 10 years of age and women above 50 years of age are permitted and they have been visiting the temple since ages. And, more importantly, there are more fundamental issues which are required to be viewed from the point of gender discrimination.


In our country women have been demanding 33 percent (I wonder why only 33 and not 50 percent) reservation in Parliament and state legislatures for many, many years now. And, shouldn’t such reservation be there in the judiciary too? In fact the very composition of the Constitution bench needs to be challenged on this ground of gender discrimination. The only woman member of the bench had given a dissenting judgment which is acclaimed by even many former judges and legal luminaries as a more balanced and acceptable one in a plural society like ours.


Various reports in the media, sharing views by legal experts tend to suggest that there is an apparent conflict between Article 25(2)(b) and Article 26 of the Constitution. Article 25(2)(b) mandates the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. But Article 26 provides the right to every religious denomination: (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.


The conflict is apparently in identifying Hindu religious institutions of a public character and religious denomination. Just because public are allowed to visit a temple it doesn’t mean that it is a public place, like a park or a theatre.


Coming to denomination, here are a few definitions of the term from various dictionaries /thesauruses.

-        (Theology) a group having a distinctive interpretation of a religious faith and usually its own organization: Collins English Dictionary

-        A class of persons or things distinguished by a specific name: Random House Kernerman: Webster’s College Dictionary

-        A set of the same persons, called by the same name and therefore of the same views: Dictionary of Collective Nouns and Group Terms

-        Religious group, belief, sect, persuasion, creed/school: Collins Thesaurus of the English Language

-        A religious group that has slightly different beliefs from other groups that share the same religion: Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus


By no stretch of imagination can the temple of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala be considered a public place nor can the rights of the denomination of Ayyappa devotees to manage its own affairs in matters of religion be abrogated.


While on these two articles of the Constitution, one glaring inequality, rather blatant discrimination, needs to be highlighted. While rights under Article 26 is provided to every religious denomination, the mandate of Article 25(2) (b) is to throw open Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus only. Now even hard core rationalists cannot deny that if any change has to be made it is to be made for Article 25(2)(b) by making it non-religion specific.


Coming to matters of equality, the apex court needs to answer some simple questions with respect to its own functioning. One, forgetting the lack of equality in the number of women judges in our courts, do the courts treat all litigants as equal? Two, what have the judges been doing to reduce the massive backlog of cases which have reduced justice to a farce in our courts? Three, given that the judiciary is only another organ created by the Constitution, why is it that the judiciary has long vacations that are not available to the other organs?


An article dated May 23, 2014 in Live Law, titled: Justice Delivery System Working 365 Days; Pressing Needs of the Indian Judiciary, was a need articulated by the then CJI while addressing the legal fraternity during the foundation stone laying ceremony of the building for the Rajasthan Bar Council at Jodhpur. But the only requirement projected by him to enable this was to improve the judge to population ratio by increasing the number of judges to at least 3 to 4 times the present strength.


I will hold anybody who talks of judge-to-population ratio instead of judge-to-case /docket ratio as incompetent to be a judge at all. According to a Power Point Presentation authored by senior adovate KTS Tulsi, on the subject of ‘Justice Delayed in India’, for a program of the Supreme Court Bar Association on August 24, 2004:

Cases filed in one year (1999): India - 13.6 Million; USA- 93.81 Million

Docket’s per judge: India - 987; USA- 3235

He quoted these figures to demolish the judge-to-population ratio quoted by Malimath in his report.


The judiciary is known to propagate another preposterous theory, that even if the judgment is wrong, it has to be complied with. Is there any wonder that the crime rate is increasing the way it is and people are taking law into their own hands? Even advocates, quite often, seem to prefer to take to the streets rather that pursue the judicial process.


Coming to Sabarimala, while there is no room for doubt that the present situation is the creation of the apex court, the role of Pinarayi Vijayan-led government in handling events has been no less abominable. In the name of enforcing the judicial order, the police, driven by the government, has been almost on a murderous spree. Devotees protesting peacefully on the routes to the temple were brutally assaulted and photographs of them being lathi charged, bleeding profusely and dragged through roads have flooded social media. The rampaging police, in riot gear, can be seen wantonly kicking and hitting parked vehicles with lathis and causing unwarranted damage. A few hundred cases, some even non bailable, have been registered against protestors. Rahul Easwar, a defender of the rituals and a peaceful protestor, was arrested and allegedly taken to the police station wrapped in tarpaulin. He was allegedly ill-treated by the police and had to be admitted to the Medical College Hospital at Thiruvananthapuram with a slip disc.


Interestingly there were no genuine devotees from the newly permitted age group who visited Sabarimala from October17 to 22 when the temple opened for monthly rituals. It was the state government that arranged for a posse of about 250 police personnel led by an Inspector General of Police to escort two women, Rehana Fathima, an activist of Kiss of Love campaign, and Kavitha Jakkal, a reporter based at Hyderabad, to the temple. Even as emotions ran high among the helpless devotees, the police managed to take them 200 meters short of the temple. It was then that the employees of the temple joined the protestors.


Finally, the activists and their escorts had to retreat when the trustees of the temple and the thanthri, the ultimate authority on religious matters and the rituals of the temple, threatened to close the temple. Some other women, mostly activists, tried to use the opportunity provided by the apex court to visit the temple, but were dissuaded by the protesting devotees.


The Government did nothing to avert the untoward events. The option to file a review petition was rejected in spite of the persistent demand from devotees. Perhaps Pinarayi Vijayan was indulging his rabid hatred for Modi. He had been exposed in a Rs 700 crore non-promised aid from UAE and the Union Government had denied permission to 17 of his ministers to visit foreign countries to seek help from non-resident Keralites for ‘reconstructing the flood-ravaged state’.


Anyone who thinks that Team Pinarayi cannot be faulted for trying to enforce the court should see how they have treated courts verdict in the past.


-        When the apex court ordered closing of all liquor vends within 500 meters of highways, the government downgraded many highways to enable their Beverages Corporation outlets to do business as usual. Incidentally, this exposed the shoddy record keeping of the authorities as the existing status of most roads was not even available.


-        The government passed an Ordinance to help two colleges circumvent a court order banning admission for medical courses.


-        An order directing handing over a church at Piravom from one faction to another has not been implemented for more than year.


-        The order on minimum wages for nurses in private hospitals and nursing homes is hanging fire.


-        The reaction of the government to the order banning triple talaq was that it was a challenge to the minorities.


-        Regarding an order to regulate slaughter of animals, the party cadres spread the canard that it was a ban on beef and went to the extent of conducting beef festivals even in colleges owned by Devaswom Boards.


Pinarayi Vijayan is leading the only Marxist party-led government in the country. Apparently he and his ministers are convinced that they will be the last communist ministers of this country.  Hence they have taken their prime duty – governance – out of their agenda. More than two months after the floods, nearly 66 relief camps are still in operation with 1848 persons in them. Even the meager compensation of Rs 10,000/- has not been distributed fully.


At the peak of relief operations, one minister caused a controversy with a visit to Germany to participate in a social event. Then, the Chief Minister himself went to the United States for 21 days for treatment of an undisclosed ailment. Since reports of ministers being ill disposed are often reported by the media, speculation is ripe about the nature of the ailment which took the hard core Marxist, Pinarayi Vijayan, to the epicenter of world capitalism. The Lavlin scam, of the time when he was Electricity Minister a decade ago, is still stuck in the courts.


The peak pilgrimage season at Sabarimala is nigh. It remains to be seen how the lack of basic amenities and the controversies affect the flow of devotees visiting the shrine from November to mid-January. But the campaign not to offer any money or buy prasadams at Devaswom-controlled temples has begun to make an impact. Hundis are getting filled with chits inscribed with Swaminye saranam (the chant of Ayyappa devotees) instead of money. For those who are ignorant about culture and its values, it may not matter. But there is also a campaign to boycott lotteries, which, apart from liquor vends, is the biggest source of income for the government. Ultimately, citizens are learning where to hit and hurt.

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