Saturday, June 02, 2007

Kerala calls for another phase of reforms movement...

G.Sudhakaran, Kerala’s Minister for temple administration, has spoken aloud about a legislation that will entitle believers in Hindu Gods to enter shrines irrespective of their religion by birth. The Minister’s observation came in response to a refrain by the Guruvayoor temple’s high priest that the rules do not permit entry of non-Hindus into the temple and that the Government alone can change the rules.

The provocation for this came from two recent incidents. One involving singer K.J.Yesudas; he had been wanting, for several years now, to worship Lord Krishna from inside the temple for several years now and a request to this effect was forwarded to the temple administration, by Mr. Sudhakaran. The high priest, however, rejected the request once again. The other incident was the conduct of purification rites (puniyaham) in the temple on the day after Ravikrishna worshipped at the temple.

Ravikrishna, according to the priests, should not have entered the sanctum sanctorum because his mother happens to be a Christian. Ravikrishna, incidentally, happens to be the son of Union Minister Vayalar Ravi. And he was there in the Guruvayoor temple to initiate his infant son into the habit of eating. It is a popular belief in Kerala as well as among a section of the Tamil speaking people that infants initiated into eating rice at the Guruvayoor temple will grow up healthy. Ravikrishna, incidentally, believed in this and hence took his infant son to this temple.

Interestingly, Ravikrishna’s marriage was conducted in Guruvayoor a few years ago and the temple priests had conducted similar rites to purify the precincts, at that time also. The newly wed couple had been to the temple seeking the Lord’s blessing and the priests, after allowing the visit, conducted a cleansing ceremony; they explained that Ravikrishna was born to a Christian mother and even if he was not baptized, he remained a non-Hindu.

The issue, despite being an instance of an important legacy of modern Kerala was sought to be negated, did not provoke a reaction and a campaign against the custom based rule of treating a section of human beings un-clean. The Marxists in Kerala did not react the same way Sudhakaran reacted now and left Vayalar Ravi to deal with it as if it was his private affair. Ravi’s own ``leader,’’ K.Karunakaran, to whom a monthly visit to the Guruvayoor shrine is as important as it is for a believing Christian to attend the mass on Christmas eve, did not speak a word against the odious act of the priests.

That a section of the Marxists have reacted differently this time is surprising. The fact is that Minister Sudhakaran was provoked by the decision by the Guruvayoor priest to deny entry to Yesudas (and not as much by the incident involving Ravikrishna) is a different story. But then, theat is now immaterial. The important thing now is whether the Kerala unit of the CPI(M), caught in a cleft, will find time and use for an agenda of this kind? And here is a challenge because Sudhakaran’s suggestion that the law could be amended has also provoked a section of the ``believers’’ to raise the spectre of the Hindu faith being in danger.

A brief recall of the struggle that pushed the priests of the Guruvayoor temple and their apologists to accept changes will be in order in this context. As late as until 1938, when the then Madras Government headed by C.Rajagopalachari passed a law, members of the Ezhava community (now classified as OBCs) as well as the Scheduled Castes were banned from entering the Guruvayoor temple. This was the case not only in Guruvayoor but in all temples across the Malabar and Cochin. In Travancore, where the historic Vaikom satyagraha led by Periyar E.V.Ramasami Naicker and conducted by the Travancore State Congress since March 1924, the custom-based rule preventing Backward Castes and Scheduled Castes entering the temple was rendered illegal by a proclamation by the Maharaja of Travancore in November 1936.

The point then is that proclaimed believers in the Hindu faith like Rajaji and the Maharaja of Travancore did not have problems in changing the law to ensure that all believers, irrespective of their caste, could enter temples and worship the God, at Vaikom and Guruvayoor as well as in all temples across Kerala. It is also a fact that the Maharaja’s proclamation as well as Rajaji’s legislative intervention were the outcome of a long and concerted campaign in the form of satyagrahas, people’s marches and discussions in the public domain organised and carried out by important leaders of such political formations as the Congress, the Congress Socialist and the Communist Party.

The fact is that communist-non-believers like A.K.Gopalan and P.Krishna Pillai collaborated with Congress leader K.Kelappan in carrying out this campaign and they all showed the courage to take on forces of reaction and status quo. This lent a distinct dimension to the freedom struggle in Kerala too. In other words, the changes in the custom-based law to ensure that caste based discrimination insofar as entry into temples, were only the logical culmination of a campaign among the people; and not merely an administrative decision by rulers.

This indeed is a fact that Sudhakaran, his party as well as the Congress in Kerala must realize at this stage. It is appropriate to state another matter of fact in this context. The Guruvayoor temple has another rule. And that prohibits even the members of the Nair community, who see themselves as upper caste, are not allowed to ring the temple bell. That is because the custom-based law and the Namboodiris who implement such laws, consider the Nairs as unclean to some extent even if not to the same extent as the Ezhavas and the Scheduled Castes.
It will make a lot of sense if all these and many more odious practices that prevail in temples (including discrimination against women in certain shrines) are taken up changes sought. In doing so, it will make sense to launch a public debate and carry out campaigns on the streets rather than mere legislative changes. Sudhakaran’s idea of changing the law is laudable and his party too will find a sense of purpose by launching a popular campaign for such changes rather than wasting all the time and energy on internecine squabbles.


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