Women at Sabarimala: Pinarayi's premature surgical strike

Women at Sabarimala: Pinarayi's premature surgical strike
(From left) Kanakadurga, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Bindu.

What chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan did by escorting two women in their early forties right up to the heart of Sabarimala was similar to what the great explorer Christopher Columbus did when he was challenged by a group of his friends soon after his discovery of the New World.

Columbus, after he introduced America to the rest of the world, was largely seen as a miracle man. He was with his friends at a market place in Spain. A group of peasant boys were seen at a corner, trying to balance an egg on their table and failing miserably. Seeing this, one of the friends asked Columbus whether he could do it. "Can you make the egg stand straight on the table, on its own," he asked.

Women at Sabarimala: Pinarayi's premature surgical strike
Kanakadurga and Bindu

The imperious man that he is, Columbus pulled out an egg from the basket of a poor egg-seller woman who was passing by, looked at it with a dry smile, and then banged the pointed tip of the egg down on the table. Hey presto, the egg stood straight with its tip crushed to the table. Columbus walked away with a triumphant smile, leaving the poor peasant woman crying for her lost egg.

Pinarayi Vijayan has done something equally smart, but he has left the state burning. Never before had such furious violence engulfed nearly the whole of the state.

Premature strike

This is not to say that the chief minister was wrong in taking the two women before the celibate deity. It is now his constitutional obligation to make sure that all women who want to pray before Lord Ayyappa get the chance to do so.

Women at Sabarimala: Pinarayi's premature surgical strike
The BJP backed hartal in Kerala witnessed rampant violence.

Problem is, he acted prematurely. He jumped the gun. No one needs to teach Pinarayi Vijayan the virtues of the waiting game. That is how he cut his in-house bete noire V S Achuthanandan to size. This is also how he thought the Malayali could be separated from his bottle. Not by a sudden outright ban on liquor, but by gradually making him see sense.

This was also how he was going about the issue of Sabarimala women's entry. He was carefully preparing the ground, using the renaissance bait to evangelise middle- and working-class women who were bound to tradition. The 'Women's Wall' was the most persuasive component of this strategy.

Wall of Hope

The debate around the 'Wall' transcended Sabarimala. Women's entry into Sabarimala was suddenly not the end. It became just one of the many prerequisites to achieve an advanced form of empowerment. Pinarayi used the 'Wall' to set the modern woman a goal far higher than a mere entry into a shrine. The 'Wall' in other words gave women the feeling that it was not something as trivial as the right to enter a temple, which many of them had really not bothered about in the first place, they were fighting for. It was something more profound. The women were gradually coming to his side. And then, all of a sudden, he just blew it. It is back to square one. Once again, it is all about Sabarimala and nothing else.

The New Year 'Wall' had also managed to alter perceptions. It demonstrated that if the women of faith were scandalised by the Supreme Court verdict, there were as many women or even more who had found it empowering. But the violence that had erupted across the state after the entry of the two women into Sabarimala, that too a day after the 'Wall' had come up, has given the impression that the presence of women in Sabarimala is as risky as having the entire state wired up with explosive mines. The Supreme Court is watching.

Women at Sabarimala: Pinarayi's premature surgical strike
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan

Hidden doubts

Strangely, after having done something that is without question bold, Pinarayi Vijayan is not willing to take responsibility. No one is in doubt about who masterminded the operation. The official stamp was evident all through, right from the moment the two women went 'missing' after their first attempt on December 24 to the video production of the women inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

Women at Sabarimala: Pinarayi's premature surgical strike
Sabarimala Karma Samiti workers burn in effigy Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

There is no point in keeping an artificial distance. (“I had no idea who these women were until I saw the news,” Pinarayi had quite unconvincingly said.) The violence would have erupted anyway. The chief minister's image will be better served by owning up the mission.

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