Our constitutional fault lines
by P M Ravindran on 23 Nov 2018 7 Comments

Commenting on my own article ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burnt’, I observed, ‘I cannot say if the apex court judgment in the hands of Pinarayi-led Government can be compared to a bouquet of flowers in the hands of a monkey or a murderous weapon in the hands of a serial murderer. The fact remains that the fear of their rights related to their faith being violated is writ large and there has been reports of protests from devotees even in faraway Australia, Canada and the US of A.’

[See: ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burnt’, 4 November 2018



The events that followed the opening of the hill shrine for one day on 5 November, for five days from the evening of 17 November, and the annual pilgrimage season extending till mid-January 2019, have exposed what a farce of democracy has been gifted to us through a Constitution which has been rightly criticized as a plagiarized version of the Government of India Act 1935, enacted by the colonial rulers to grant limited self-governance for locals.


The Chief Minister of Kerala, a Marx follower, is now being referred to as Kerala Stalin with adequate justification. The way he has neglected the flood victims, a significant number of whom are still in relief camps even after three months of the flood, his foreign jaunts for almost a month during this period, his failure to implement apex court orders in many cases, from implementing a minimum pay for nurses to handing over a church from one denomination to another, his effort to circumvent the apex court orders on banning admission to two medical colleges by issuing an ordinance, failure to investigate a party MLA accused as a molester by a woman victim of his own party… the list is long and enough to question his intentions when he has concentrated his efforts to ensure that a woman of objectionable age (as per devotees) is taken to Sabarimala.


The gross error in the majority judgment of the apex court has already been explained in detail in my article quoted earlier. What was left unsaid was that even before the temple opened for the first time after the verdict, in October, two review petitions had been filed, one by the Nair Service Society through advocate K Parasaran on 8 October and another by the All Kerala Brahmins Association through advocate Sanand Ramakrishnan on 13 October 2018. The court decided to take up these petitions only on 13 November 2018, just three days before the annual pilgrimage season was to start. And on that day, after hearing the parties in Chamber, it was decided to hear the petitions, now almost 50 in number, only on 22 January 2019, after the temple closes at the end of the season. To add insult to injury, the court made it clear that there was no stay on the original order.


Whatever happened during the periods when the temple opened will forever remain a blot on any democratic government, even a Marxist-one. It appears that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led regime is at war with the majority of its citizens, particularly the devotees of Ayyappa Swami. Forget about repairing the assets damaged by the floods, even the available facilities, including drinking water and toilets, were denied to devotees reaching the shrine after long journeys and an arduous trek through forest track in a mountainous terrain. The dormitory accommodation available in the temple premises was also denied. It was an agonizing and outrageous sight to see children sleeping near garbage bins, out of sheer exhaustion.


Immediately after the temple closed on 6th November, a video clip went viral on social media of the young District Collector of Pathanamthitta, P.B. Nooh, under whose jurisdiction Sabarimala is situated, ticking off the staff of the Travancore Devaswom Board for lack of maintenance of the available facilities and unpreparedness for the forthcoming season that was just round the corner. But as current reports suggest, nothing was done after that.


Leaders of groups in the forefront of peaceful protests earlier, now on the way to the temple as normal devotees, have been arrested. While Sasikala, a teacher and State president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was let off by the court of the RDO, K Surendran, general secretary of the State BJP, has been remanded to 14 days in custody. It is as if the Chief Minister is directly supervising the Police Raj at Sabarimala. The efforts to gag the media were foiled by just one channel, Janam TV, approaching the High Court of Kerala and getting orders forbidding government interference in media covering the events in and around Sabarimala.


Ever since the demolition of Babri Masjid, there have been threats to the temples at Guruvayur and Sabarimala, especially on the anniversary of the event on 6 December. And now with the apex court order permitting women of the age group 10 to 50 years to visit the shrine and the public protest against it, Pinarayi Vijayan is on a strong wicket as far as the deployment of a large number of police personnel is concerned. But as happens usually, it is always a question of misuse of powers for devious purposes that have been the bane of law enforcement in this country.


While devotees are harassed in every possible way, including the denial of the right to perform the most cherished ritual of anointing the idol with the ghee brought by them filled in coconuts, the police have reportedly ordered even the insufficient food stalls to shut down after temple hours. On the flip side, they themselves have been ordered to wear their shoes, belt, caps, etc. as per regulations (which had not been there earlier). Silly as it may seem, they have also been ordered not to address the devotees as ‘Swamy’ or ‘Malikappuram’, which are the traditional forms of addressing devotees once they begin their vrat till they return after offering prayers at the temple.


Central intelligence agencies have reportedly indicted the State Government. Central ministers are expected to visit the shrine soon to study the ground realities personally. But how effectively they will be able to intervene remains to be seen. The fact that the apex court could issue such a blatantly unconstitutional order (yes, I repeat, it is blatantly unconstitutional as it violates the fundamental right to religion as enunciated in Article 26 of the Constitution, and has not abrogated Article 25(2)(b) which is applicable to only Hindu institutions and thus violative of the much touted right to equality), an elected Chief Minister could strive to drive the citizens of his state to near revolt. Yet he cannot be dismissed easily without recognizing the fault lines of our Constitution and the lack of the much needed checks and balances. 

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