Above: Kanaka Durga (left) and Bindu Ammini being escorted by police/Photo: UNI
Kanaka Durga created history by being among the first two women to enter the temple after the September 2018 Supreme Court verdict but her own family threw her out of the house
By NV Ravindranathan Nair in Thiruvananthapuram
Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga are anything but Lord Ayyappa devotees. As such, for both leftist women activists, mounting the holy hills of Sabarimala and entering the temple was more a political act than a spiritual one. Under cover of dark, disguised as transgenders and escorted by policemen in plain clothes, the two managed to sneak into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple through a gate meant for officials, thus avoiding the 18 holy steps to escape the eyes of Ayyappa bhakts and workers in the early hours of January 2. There is no footage to tell whether they offered prayers or not at the temple. But when they entered it, though in an ignominious manner, they made history, becoming the first women to do so since the Supreme Court in a landmark decision last September overturned an age-old tradition and declared that women of all ages can enter and pray at the temple.
Ever since their adventurous act to breach tradition in the name of gender equality, their life has changed, at least for now. Kanaka Durga, an assistant manager with the Civil Supplies department of the state government, is virtually on the streets as her own family—her husband and mother-in-law—disowned her and forbade her from entering what was till recently her house too. She is now living in a government shelter home, One Stop Centre, run by the Social Justice department.
The duo had tried to reach the temple a week earlier too, but their attempt was thwarted by Ayyappa devotee workers. Under orders from the state’s Marxist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the police took them to a secret hideout in Kannur and put them through the rigours of going unnoticed to the temple. Whenever the devotees stopped them, they told them that they were transgenders. And they did it on a day that the eyes of the state were focussed on the Women Wall, when reportedly 32 lakh women joined hands to make a human wall from one end of the state to another. Even the supporters of the CPI(M)-sponsored wall had no clue that they would once again be brought to Sabarimala under the cover of the event held on January 1.
After their return from Sabarimala too, the police took them to a secret location and sheltered them under heavy security. But when Kanaka Durga returned to her house, she had a quarrel with her mother-in-law and was allegedly thrashed by her on January 15. Kanaka Durga had to undergo treatment at Kozhikode (Calicut) medical college hospital after the incident. Her mother-in-law was also injured in the incident. After she was discharged from the hospital, her husband and brother said she would not be allowed to enter their houses, forcing her to seek refuge at the government shelter.
Speaking to the media immediately after getting discharged from the hospital, Kanaka Durga blamed her husband for not letting her enter her in-laws’ house. She said it was her husband’s decision to not allow her in the house after she was discharged from the hospital. “Now I am waiting for a court order. Till then the police have housed me in a government shelter house, One Stop Centre, run by the Social Justice Department,” she said.
She had approached the local police on January 22, who then took her to the government shelter. Meanwhile, her brother, Bharat Bhushan, too declared that she won’t be allowed in his house till she apologises to the Hindu community and Ayyappa devotees.
Following the attack on Kanaka Durga, she and Bindu had approached the Supreme Court seeking protection, and the apex court had ordered the state government to provide them with sufficient security. For Kanaka Durga alone, 28 policemen have been assigned to provide security. Circle Inspector TS Binu said she was being provided round the clock security as directed by the apex court. “At least 10 police personnel have been posted for her security at a time. CCTV surveillance has also been provided at the shelter home,” he said.
For Bindu, five policemen are providing security at a time. Bindu (37), a practising lawyer and faculty at School of Legal Thoughts in the University of Calicut, is staying in a government accommodation at Thalasseri, a stronghold of the CPI(M). She has rejoined duty and has not met with any violence so far.
Meanwhile, Kanaka Durga has filed a petition in a court at Perinthalamanna under the Domestic Violence Act, stating she has the right to stay at her husband’s house.
Further, Navodhana Keralam Sabarimalaikku (Renaissance Kerala to Sabarimala), a Facebook online collective which is behind sending Kanaka Durga and Bindu to Sabarimala, is planning to mobilise support for Kanaka Durga and others. Speaking to India Legal, Sreyas Kanaran, who leads the group, said he had contacted Kanaka Durga. “She is anticipating a favourable court order on her petition seeking an order to facilitate her entry into her in-laws’ house. In fact, her husband is almost ready for a compromise. But her brother Bharat Bhushan and others are still opposed to allowing her to enter the house,” he said.
Bharat Bhushan, also a CPI(M) sympathiser, had revealed that the police and CPI(M) leadership had conspired to take her sister to Sabarimala. He attended a huge gathering of Ayyappa devotees held under the aegis of the Sabarimala Karma Samiti in Thiruvananthapuram on January 18 and announced that Kanaka Durga should tender an apology to the Hindu community as a pre-condition for allowing her into their house. Kanaran said a meeting of the representatives of like-minded groups and certain extreme left-wing outfits like CPI(ML) had attended a meeting convened at Thrissur on January 28 and decided to bring in more young women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala temple. “We will bring at least 10 young women separately each day when the temple opens for monthly pujas from February 12 to 17. Moreover, we will mobilise three thousand people, and under their cover, 50 women together will go to Sabarimala. In case the women are blocked, we will file contempt of court petitions. At the same time, there will be efforts to enable more women to enter the temple under the cover of night,” he revealed.
The meeting was attended by representatives of CPI(ML) and some fringe elements active among the tribal communities. “We will chalk out an action plan to empower those women who want to breach Hindu traditions and ensure gender justice is done,” he reiterated.
With both the pro and anti-women entry groups sharpening their knives, the Sabarimala temple issue seems set for more chaos when the temple doors open again next month.