Tension builds in row over women’s entry into Hindu temple in Kerala

In this file photo taken on October 18, 2018 Indian Hindu devotees are pictured at the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala in the southern state of Kerala. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018

Tension builds in row over women’s entry into Hindu temple in Kerala

  • Hindu women demand their right of religious freedom as 41-day festival approaches
  • Kerala polarized over female entry into the hilltop temple

NEW DELHI: Tension in the air as Sabarimala Hilltop temple in the South Indian state of Kerala is being prepared to open on Nov. 17 for a 41-day Hindu festival.
The tension pertains to the entry of females between the ages of 10 to 50 into the ancient temple of Ayyappa, a deity who devotees believe is celibate and abhors the entry into the temple of women of marriageable age.
The Indian Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment in the last week of September, laid down a rule that bars the entry of young women into the temple. This led to a severe protest across the state, with women being stopped forcefully from entering the temple.
Last month, when the temple opened for six days, at least 12 women tried to enter the hillside temple but a violent crowd blocked their passage, with police looking helpless. At least 560 women in the barred age group have enrolled for the annual pilgrimage that starts in less than a week.
“We are taking all kinds of steps to see that devotees can pay their obeisance to the deity in a peaceful manner,” S. Sreejith, the Kerala inspector general of police, told Arab News.

Political mileage
Before coming to the temple, devotees observe celibacy for 41 days and avoid all kinds of meat and alcohol. They also don black robes for the period.
“The soul of any temple is the deity inside. The deity Aayyappa is a bachelor and that’s why the entry of young women is regulated in the temple,” says Rahul Easwar, a Hindu right-wing activist with close links to the Sabarimala temple.
Talking to Arab News, Easwar said: “We will never say anything against the Supreme Court. We are fighting for our rights to believe and our rights to have our own faith.”
However, women rights activist Kavita Krishnan claimed that “the entire controversy is clearly politically manufactured by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”
The BJP is looking for political mileage in Kerala — the state where it is a small marginal player,” added Krishnan, secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association.
She pointed out that “the entire debate is concocted. It is well known that women’s entry was allowed until the 1990s, and it was stopped upon a court order. The Supreme Court order has only undone that order.”
The local government of Kerala, a coalition of communist parties, supports women’s entry into the temple.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a news conference on Saturday, said: “Opposition to changes in customs is quite natural. But there is no going back. Toilets, bathing facilities and accommodation facilities at Nilakkal will be set up for women devotees. The current crisis is temporary.”
K. Surendran of the BJP, however, said: “This is a matter of belief and the court should not interfere. Why does the court not interfere in the affairs of other minority religions?”
The BJP spokesperson in Kerala told Arab News: “The women who want to enter the temple are not devotees but activists. They are not believers.
“The local government is trying to polarize the issue by supporting women’s entry because it wants to gain the support of other religious minorities,” added Surendran.
Sandhya Acharya, a woman devotee who has registered to go to the Sabarimala temple, told Arab News that there is an “attempt to deny entry to women by calling them activists.
“Why should there be discrimination in the house of God in the name of gender?” she asked.
Rajesh Krishnan, a Kerala-based activist and intellectual, said: “The whole issue has polarized the society in Kerala. The issue has become all the more vicious after the BJP entered the debate and saw it as an opportunity to win over the people and make an entry into the southern Indian state.”
Around 42 review petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court and Tuesday the Apex court will decide whether it should revisit its judgment or not.

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance in Atulugama on March 29, 2020, after the town was sealed off by health authorities following fears that it could be a cluster for COVID-19 infection after two positive cases. (AFP)
Updated 15 min 48 sec ago

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

  • Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival

COLOMBO: To help its overseas migrant workers deal with the coronavirus, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations has launched an online portal where citizens can voice their concerns, officials said on Sunday.

“All Sri Lankans living abroad were invited to register voluntarily on the platform . . . allowing the government to reach out and provide assistance during emergencies such as the Covid-19 outbreak. This platform will allow the ministry to access real-time data for quick action,” an official from the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Since its launch on March 26, the “Contact Sri Lanka” portal has seen 17,000 registrations, with several saying they want to return home as soon as possible.

“A bulk of the 700 inquiries received through the portal relate to the possibility of a return to the country,” excerpts from a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and made available to Arab News, read on Sunday.

Registration by residents in the country will also allow the ministry to propose concrete policy decisions in critical response situations, such as evacuation measures, depending on the number of emergency assistance requests generated, the statement said.

It added that establishment of the portal was based on a “call made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for coordinated efforts by all government stakeholders to fight the Covid-19 outbreak and to harness digital technology to prompt faster and more efficient service delivery.”

Deputy General Manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) W. Leelaratne told Arab News that Sri Lankan employees, particularly at missions in the Middle East and Asia, would be working with host governments “to secure fair treatment and concessions for expatriate workers to the maximum extent possible.”

“This includes safeguarding the rights of the workers related to the payment of salaries and ensuring job security, ” he said.

Leelaratne said that due to the current global situation; the SLBFE has opened a 24/7 help desk for all migrant workers who could seek assistance by contacting the hotline.

Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, director general of Health Services, said that the number of coronavirus cases had risen to 110 with the detection of four new cases on Sunday.

Two of the four cases were arrivals from the south Indian city of Chennai, with Jasinghe saying that the government had requested all those flying in from Chennai to report to the nearest health facility for mandatory quarantine arrangements.

As an additional measure, the villages of Atulugama, Akurana and Kadayankulam have been placed under lockdown, while the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam and Jaffna have been declared high-risk zones with a full-day curfew to continue in these areas until further notice.