Just a few days ago, videos went viral about the inclusive Durga Pujas in Kolkata, one among them being organised by sex workers of Sonagachi with tell-tale artistic placards of their work rights and place in society and another being organised for the queer community. Yes, there was one about child labourers too, the entire pandal a screaming message for defending their right to a life of freedom and knowledge. Thoughtfully, somebody made a Braille-like Durga idol to help the visually challenged feel the goddess with their extra sensory perceptions. Yet at the other end of the spectrum is the rigidity at Sabarimala where women devotees continue to be stopped despite the Supreme Court’s orders for genderless access to the celibate shrine which, its keepers believe, will be desecrated by the presence of women in their reproductive age. As news have been pouring in of vigilants stopping various women seekers marching to Lord Ayyappa for his blessings, a Dalit woman too was prevented by aggressive mobs on Monday.
The Dalit activist, who was proceeding to Pamba at the foothills of Sabarimala temple, from where devotees undertake an arduous 5 km trek to the shrine, was given police protection. However, patriarchal protesters forced her to alight. Yes, there is the matter of faith where believers maintain that Lord Ayyappa had sworn not to marry till his earthly mission was fulfilled and women devotees who understand empathise with the woman who still waits for him. But Ayyappa is also the most democratic divinity there is. Devotees dress uniformly in black, symbolising a renunciation of worldly pleasures and donning a garb of equality beyond caste and other social hierarchies. A Dalit can lead the prayers if he is the group leader, and a Brahmin follower must touch his feet too. Nowhere in Hindu rituals is such liberalism on display. So Lord Ayyappa himself would not turn away the genuine seeker, be it a woman or man. When will we understand this?