June 18, 2019
The Sabarimala shrine has been dear not just to Keralites, but dearer to devotees from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
But during the last Mandalam-Makaravilakku season that ended in mid-January, it was a trickling flow of devotees resulting in a record drop in revenue for the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which administers the temple and another 1,250, dipping by Rs 98.66 crore compared to last season.
Ever since the September 28, 2018, Supreme Court verdict allowing women in menstrual age to worship at the shrine, there were violent protests against implementing the verdict. From protestors of the BJP-RSS combine to the large posse of police force deployed by the State Government to implement the verdict, it was literally crowded, all in the name of devotees, and little space was left for pilgrims.
The tense situation in an another wise calm and serene atmosphere, made pilgrims, especially from other States, stay away from undertaking the pilgrimage that has been a practice for years.
This saw the revenue at the hilltop shrine dip abysmally to Rs 178.76 crore till the end of this Mandala-Makaravilakku season as against Rs 277.42 crore during the previous one of 2017, according to the report of the devaswom accounts officer to the board.
It says the violent incidents after the September 28 verdict, the August 2018 floods and the Nipah outbreak in northern districts of the State earlier last year contributed to the revenue dip.
It is customary for the devaswom to have a short-term fixed deposit, a share taken from the season revenue, to meet the monthly expenses of the temple. However after the end of this season, there was also a shortfall of Rs 78 crore in this deposit.
This drop has had its ripples. More than 1,250 temples under the board sustain on income generated from Sabarimala. Of them, just 60 temples had income sufficient to meet their daily expenses at the end of the last season. The revenue fall did impact renovation and reconstruction works in several of these temples. This meant that very minimal and unavoidable repair works were taken up, the report said.
Already the August floods took away practically all the infrastructure at Pamba, the last camp for pilgrims before they undertake the trek to the Sabarimala shrine. Basic amenities like toilets, bathrooms, etc were not available at Pamba. This even made the devaswom drop the opening of the shrine twice for pilgrims during the start of the Malayalam month.
Then came the Supreme Court verdict which was initially hailed ‘historic’ by all political parties, including the BJP, and community organisations, except the Nair Service Society which felt that it was against tradition and customs.
Majority of the organisations, including the RSS, had nothing against the verdict, but also welcomed it. The Pinarayi Vijayan Government, which blundered in its political strategy and wanted to project itself as the ‘messiah of renaissance’, acted in haste to say it would implement the verdict at any cost of using police force.
This announcement by Pinarayi came when there was not even a voice of dissent or protest against the verdict. Moreover, the floods had not just destroyed Kerala causing a loss of over Rs 40,000 crore, but there was only sand left at the Pamba base camp.
It took just two days for the BJP-RSS combine to change stance as religious faith was an easy political weapon to use. Its leaders swallowed their own words and came out as ‘saviours’ of faith and age-old customs.
That, several young women, including members of the royal family of Travancore used to go there frequently, that the devaswom had even given permission to film a scene with a leading South Indian actress dancing on the ’18 Holy Steps’, that the whole issue of barring young women came up in the 1950s after a fire at the temple and that the apex court had deliberated the matter in detail hearing all the claims of religious leaders, purposely went into oblivion.
Smelling a ‘political opportunity’ the Congress too slowly started voicing its protest against implementing the verdict.
The video of the BJP state president’s address to party workers saying Sabarimala was a ‘political agenda’ went viral.
Both the Left and the BJP ‘kept their word’. The latter sent out an army of goondas under the garb of Sabarimala Karma Samiti to the shrine, violently spreading fear among devotees, especially women from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. They were quizzed intimidatingly and asked to produce documents for age proof by the Samiti volunteers.
On the other hand, Kerala Government sent its full strength police forces to ‘protect renaissance and gender equality’ and it was mayhem, literally driving out pilgrims. In between as part of one upmanship, the police with government blessings sneaked in two young women who also claimed to be activists.
It was trickling flow to the Sabarimala hundis. And during the recent elections, voters ensured that no BJP member was elected to the Lok Sabha and also taught the Left a lesson where just one candidate scraped through.