Rehana Fathima tried to enter Sabarimala temple last year in October when its gates were legally opened to women, though she was chased away, just 100 meters from the temple. This year, Fathima will not be making the journey that cost her more than her safety, again.”When the keepers of the Sabarimala are not accepting and respecting of women entering the temple premises despite the law allowing us, I don’t think I will go for now. However, any woman who wants to go can still go but they will be forcing women out, to the limit of injuring us,” says Fathima to SheThePeople.TV.

Lost job, got arrested after entering Sabarimala

Life hasn’t been the same for Fathima since. She was met with extreme protests back home in Ernakulam even after she returned from Sabarimala. She stands suspended from her job at BSNL for a year now and she even got arrested.

An activist and telecom technician with BSNL, Fathima tried to enter the holy abode of Lord Ayyappa – the celibate deity – at Kerala’s Sabarimala temple which did not allow women of menstruating age to enter its inner sanctum for decades before the rule was rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year on September 28. After this when the temple gates opened, many women tried to enter it but they were met with severe protests from the devotees and political outfits trying to hinder their trek. One of them was Fathima, who in a bid to enter the temple, trekked all the way up, as the temple is perched on a hilltop, amidst severe protests. However, she couldn’t enter after the Tantri threatened to leave the temple if a woman entered its premises.

ALSO READ: SC Defers Hearing On Petition Seeking Muslim Women’s Entry In Mosque

Life hasn’t been the same for her since. She met with extreme protests back home in Ernakulam even after she returned from Sabarimala. She stands suspended from her job at BSNL for a year now and even got arrested under section 295A which entails deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. While Fathima is out on bail currently, she tells us that the police have not submitted the charge sheet in her case yet and she awaits trial.

“There has been no change here since last year. Political parties made Sabarimala a political matter because parliamentary elections were near and BJP wanted to create a foothold here among people in the name of religion,” says Fathima.

Women Who Entered Sabarimala In Jan Doesn’t Wish To Again

It was an adventurous task for me, a woman, to visit Sabarimala. The situation wasn’t comfortable. There were forces with political agendas.  They were trying to invoke violence, and were using believers for that.

Another devotee, Kanakadurga, who shot to national fame in January this year after she managed to enter the inner sanctum of the temple, also isn’t sure she can do it all over again. In a recent interaction, she told us, “I don’t have any plan yet.  But I will definitely go again If I feel like going.”

The government employee recollects her trip to the temple earlier this year and says, “It was an adventurous task for me,  a woman, to visit Sabarimala. The situation wasn’t comfortable. There were forces with political agendas, who were trying to invoke violence, and were using believers for that. Our attempt to reach Sabarimala succeeded only the second time. I’m very happy about that.”

Family feud prevails 

Her relations have definitely soured with her family post her visit to Sabarimala. After she came back from her devotional trip, her in-laws denied her entry in their house and her mother-in-law even assaulted her after she returned from the shrine. “I didn’t change much after visiting Sabarimala. What did change is how my family and society saw me. There are people who stare at me with wonder, anger, hate, love, respect. None of my relatives have appreciated what I did. My elder brother is the only relative with whom I am still in contact,” shares Kanakadurga. Despite the havoc, she still wants the Supreme Court to stand with women in their verdict of the review petition.

ALSO READ: A Look At The Women Who Tried To Enter Sabarimala

A month after the constitutional bench of the Supreme Court delivered the landmark verdict in the case of Sabarimala temple on October 23, it agreed to hear a review petition in the matter because of the resultant protests. The constitutional bench, comprising of Justices R F Nariman, D Y Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra and A M Khanwilkar, that gave the 4:1 verdict with only Malhotra dissenting, received a total of 19 petitions seeking its review.

Petitioners also advise women against entering Sabarimala

In 2006, a group of five women lawyers, Bhakti Pasrija, Prerna Kumari, Laxmi Sethi, Sudha Pal and Alka Sharma filed a petition for Sabrimala in the SC. While Pasrija still stands strong on her ground that no temple should discriminate on the basis of gender, she believes that women shouldn’t enter the temple amidst such harsh protests. “Right now the kind of violence happening there, it is not advisable for women to enter the temple and create a  mess further. Why should we go there forcefully? Everything should happen peacefully and amicably?”  

She adds that the kind of treatment women have been meted with for entering the temple is very unfortunate. “I appeal to people that it took us 12 years to convince court so it is only a matter of time that people also become sensitized to the fact that women who can follow the customs of going to the temple must be allowed to enter. Now that this discussion has begun, I hope our future generation will understand the meaning of gender equality,” says she.

“I never thought this issue will become so huge and politicised and frankly speaking, we were told about this issue in a very different manner. At that time, women lawyers from the Southern states weren’t approached for this matter and we didn’t know so much about this tradition and the faith.” – Prerna Kumari

She believes that awareness drives and sensitization programs, and education will prevail over gender discrimination and if not now then 10 years down the lanes, they will be able to visit the temple peacefully.

While Pasrija stands firmly with her petition, another petitioner, Prerna Kumari regrets her decision. “I never thought this issue will become so huge and politicised and frankly speaking, we were told about this issue in a very different manner. At that time, women lawyers from the Southern states weren’t approached for this matter and we didn’t know so much about this tradition and the faith. We read a few articles and heard a few things on the basis of which, we filed the petition. We didn’t know this matter was so controversial.”

She adds, “We were told that women in Kerala want to enter the temple and they aren’t allowed but later I got to know and I got several letters in which women said that they want to enter the temple with their faith. They said that they want to preserve their traditions and I stand with them. I feel whatever happened wasn’t right and didn’t happen in the right way.”

ALSO READ: Sabarimala Row: Temple Board’s Volte Face Doesn’t End The Matter

Pasrija recollects the time when they filed the petition and says, “We didn’t know at that time that this matter would become as big as it has. We were very young and we filed it because we realized that this tradition hurt the dignity of women. The temple was purified when South Indian actress Jaimala Ji entered the temple in 1987. It was very absurd and this was the trigger for filing this petition.” She added that at that time all political parties including Congress and BJP supported them.

As we get closer to the temple gates’ opening dates on November 17 that will stay open till November 30, chaos beckons in Kerala over women’s entry in Sabarimala. While the Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan supported women wanting to enter the temple last year with increased police security, it remains to be seen if havoc returns in God’s own land or will women choose to forego their right over safety.

Picture credit- Youtube

ALSO READ: Equality does not mean Sameness; A perspective on Sabarimala

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.