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Sabarimala verdict: Kerala government has no locus standi to file an affidavit in favour of the petitioners

Author: P V Nalinakshan Nair
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: October 15, 2018
URL:      http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2018/oct/15/sabarimala-verdict-kerala-government-has-no-locus-standi-to-file-an-affidavit-in-favour-of-the-peti-1885609.amp?__twitter_impression=true

Till 1949, the erstwhile Travancore kingdom was the custodian of all Hindu temples in the region. It administered, managed and controlled the temples and in 1922 created the Devaswom Department under the Land Revenue Department.

The then rulers adhered to the principles of Sanathana Dharma since they were devout Hindus who believed in temple worship and customs. Therefore, before signing the instrument of accession with the Union of India, the princely states of both Travancore and Cochin wanted to ensure the control and management of the temples is indeed vested in those who profess and practise the Hindu Sanathana Dharma.

As per Chapter II, Sections 3 and 15 of the Travancore and Cochin Hindu Religious Institution Act 1950, all the assets, authority and powers owned and exercised by the king devolved on the respective Devaswom Boards. Section 31 of the Act enjoins the Devaswom Boards to conduct the affairs of the temple in accordance with the prevailing practices and customs utilising the assets and exercising the authority devolved on them by virtue of Section 3 and 15 of the Act.

Thus the Kings of Travancore and Cochin ensured the control and management of the temples did not pass into the hands of non-Hindus, agnostics or atheists. It should be noted here the prevailing practices and customs of the Sabarimala pilgrimage do not constitute any notable violation of civil rights, violence or abuse nor incite enmity between or among other religions. Hence, the incumbent Kerala government has no locus standi to file an affidavit in favour of the petitioners in the case. The secular state has no legal or moral right to intervene in the case.

The Supreme Court ought not to have taken cognisance of such an affidavit filed by the state government. The Travancore  Devaswom Board is duty bound to specifically point out the state governments’ limitations and lack of authority on the issue. Though they have failed miserably in the discharge of this duty, not much else can be expected of a board appointed by the same government.

A sizeable majority of pilgrims, after undertaking a 41-day  penance, come to Sabarimala for Lord Ayyappa’s darsan. With no personal grooming and clad in black while remaining celibate throughout the period of the penance, the pilgrims surrender themselves totally to the Lord to unite with the divine grace. Had the Supreme Court been properly informed of the unique nature of the Sabarimala pilgrimage, the judges perhaps might have refrained from making uncalled for observations in the name of gender equality.

As per the Hindu Dharma Sasthras, customs and practices can indeed change according to  time and place. When the so-called secular institutions of state and the judiciary foist their ideas on Ayyappa devotees, there is bound to be resistance and outrage.The perverse judgment and the state government’s support to it hurt true Ayyappa devotees, including young women.

Now, the Supreme Court verdict is under review. The Union government is a key signatory to the tripartite Covenant of 1949 and this holds good with respect to the functioning of the Travancore Devaswom Board and its practices.

As a signatory, the Union government had guaranteed the implementation of the provisions of the covenant. Any violation or negation of the spirit and import of the covenant calls for the present Union government’s intervention to nullify the effect of the perverse judgment.

- (The writer is a former Travancore Devaswom Board commissioner. The views expressed are personal.)
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