For the Brahmins who hold the priesthood in most temples and the Nairs who hold the administrative works in the temples, women’s entry in Sabarimala is a major blow to their authority over the temples. They feel the threat from the Constitution which ensures equality. … The recent emancipatory Supreme Court verdict opens up the possibility of the court also seeking to allow lower caste priests into Sabarimala
Two months after the devastating flood, Kerala has been in the limelight again – this time for one of the most regressive reasons. This is tragic, especially for a state, which is otherwise hailed for its progressive ideas. The landmark verdict of the Supreme Court allowing women’s entry to Sabarimala and the state government’s welcoming stand on the verdict infuriated the conservative sections of the state – across gender and religion. Both the BJP and the Congress took it as an opportunity to slam the state government for allegedly endangering Hindu customs and rituals. The five days during which the temple opened for monthly rituals witnessed widespread attack across the state against women, journalists and even the police.
There has been much debate around the globe around the idea of whether democracy and Islam can function together. However, few discussions on the contradiction of Brahmanism and democracy are audible (or visible) beyond narrow academic discourse.
Only Dr. Ambedkar understood the possible oxymoronic existence between the two; and that is why, possibly, where the Constitution of India acquires its uniqueness from. Ideologically, the Constitution stands in sharp contradiction to the fundamentals of Brahmanism.
The Constitution stands for equality as opposed to Brahmanism which is founded on ascribed inequality. The Indian state, post Independence, did not work towards downsizing Brahmanism or Brahmanical hegemony; on the contrary, it allowed the existence of institutionalised power centers of the Brahmanisms like the Sankaracharya Mats with their numerous rituals. Within the Kerala version of such Brahminic institutions, it is the Thazhamon and Tharananellur families who have continued their domination on the social system and the Hindu shrines in the state.
Interestingly, both the BJP and the Congress were not at the forefront against the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala verdict in the first few days; especially with both the centralised leadership of both parties welcoming the verdict. But then, it was one man – Rahul Easwar, who made the first call to mobilise devotees to ‘fight’ against the verdict. Easwar, who claims to belong to the Thazhamon family becomes relevant in Kerala not because of his activism but because of the social system which rebuilds and glorifies upper caste patriarchal society. Hence to talk about Rahul Easwar is to talk about the Brahminical system in Kerala. The question is not what he is but how he came to be what he is.
Rahul Easwar’s website and his Wikipedia page say he is an activist and the qualification mentioned is the he has been an invitee in numerous channel discussions, including national channels. Why is he an invitee on these channels? This self proclaimed activist belongs to the most prominent (and powerful, monetarily, socially and politically) Brahmin family which controls the Sabarimala temple. So let’s understand this – Eswar’s fundamental significance is that he belongs to the Thazhamon family. Or to put in a different way – what makes Rahul important is the social capital of being a Brahmin.
The one who speaks with the utmost clarity about Easwar’s politics is himself. “I am not a liberal, I am an advocate of Brahmin-Savarna politics”, said Easwar during a channel discussion. Given the public space of Kerala, it is not possible to envisage what a person from a ‘lower’ caste, possibly with a dark complexion would say at the same time, in the same situation, even if he belongs to the RSS cadre which profess the same ideological position as Easwar.
It would not be wrong to say that Rahul Easwar is even more credible than the RSS in Kerala. He is able to make himself acceptable within the liberal space of Kerala and beyond. Even those who stand against the BJP in Kerala might not necessarily see a problem with him. And that is because, the majority still thinks that Brahminism is serene and respectful, an idea which grows naturally in the given social context of Kerala and beyond.
Although not a BJP or RSS member, the politics of Rahul Easwar is undoubtedly most beneficial to the BJP in Kerala. Easwar was the first one to openly come out against the Supreme court verdict and created a riot like situation among believers. In the following days, it was natural that the BJP would alone reap the benefits of Eswar’s acts.
The re-assignation on the impurity of menstrual blood in the name of Lord Ayyappa is nothing but the reproduction of the savarna patriarchal ideas which people like Easwar represent. Prima facie, he says the rituals and beliefs of Hinduism must be followed. That the Brahmins themselves have gone through several reformations within, by going against what were called as beliefs, just years or decades before, is conveniently side-stepped, if not completely ignored.
For instance, now, only the first son of a Brahmin family in Kerala is expected to marry a Brahmin woman as per the traditional Brahmin family. The other males of the family are supposed to have relations with Nair women which is not a marriage. The relationship between a Brahmin male and a Nair woman is called ‘Sambandam’, which was practiced until a few decades before. Easwar himself married a Nair woman and did not keep a ‘Sambandam’. For Waswar, such an internal reformation within the Brahminical system is acceptable but women entering Sabarimala goes against beliefs.
This selective double standard on what can be reformed and what not, stems from the socio-economic interests of the Upper castes. For the Brahmins who hold the priesthood in most temples and the Nairs who hold the administrative works in the temples, women’s entry in Sabarimala is a major blow to their authority over the temples. They feel the threat from the Constitution which ensures equality.
Recently, a document emerged on social media and was shared widely. It was a document that revealed how a priest from a ‘lower caste’ was rejected after applying for a post at Sabarimala. The recent emancipator Supreme Court verdict opens up the possibility of the court also seeking to allow lower caste priests into Sabarimala, if approached. This is the threat that the current Brahmin-Nair nexys foresees as an outcome of the recent Supreme Court verdict.
In conclusion: the Sabarimala Supreme Court verdict is a landmark milestone which shakes the foundation of Brahmin-Savarna patriarchal monopoly over Hindu temples and their wealth. As long as hundreds of other castes and cultures also consider themselves ‘Hindu’ — and are called Hindus by the law and by savarnas — only such democratising measures promoting ideas of equality can serve justice to every section within the ‘Hindu’ fold including its women.
1.Supporting entry of women at Sabarimala, Former Guj DGP writes to Kerala CM