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Kerala on edge before Sabarimala opens for all women tomorrow

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Thiruvananthapuram | Kerala on Tuesday waited with bated breath for the opening of the gates of Sabarimala temple tomorrow, the first time since the Supreme Court allowed women of all age groups to enter the shrine, under the shadow of ominous warnings of “mass suicides” and threats of disruption.

The last gasp effort by the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, to defuse the situation came to nought with the Pandalam royal family and other stakeholders walking out of a meeting called by it over its reluctance to discuss the issue of filing a review petition against the apex court order.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women devotees of Lord Ayyappa, the eternally celibate deity of Sabarimala, picketed the road to the hill shrine and prevented women they suspected were of menstrual age from proceeding to the shrine some 20 km away.

Lustily chanting “Swamiya Saranam Ayyappa” hailing the Lord, the devotees checked buses and private vehicles for girls and women of the “banned” age group and forced them to abandon their journey.

Among those was a woman journalist Ritu, who claimed she was heading for the temple on assignment and had no intention of entering the shrine, something that could have offended the religious sensibilities of Ayyappa devotees.

“No woman belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer prayers at the shrine when it opens for the monthly pooja tomorrow evening,” asserted a woman protester as tempers ran high at Nilackal, the gateway to Sabarimala.

A small police contingent looked the other way.

Television channels showed some college students, including young girls wearing black dresses, being ordered to get down a bus.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, facing a tough time tackling the highly emotive religious issue which has also acquired political overtones, issued a stern warning to those who dared block devotees from entering the temple.

“We will ensure security to all. Nobody will be allowed to take law into their hands. My government will not allow any violence in the name of Sabarimala,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram as followers of Lord Ayyappa virtually besieged Nilackal, about 225 km from the state capital.

“Stern action will be taken against anyone who prevents devotees from going to Sabarimala,” he warned and ruled out any rethink of his government’s decision against seeking a review of the Supreme Court order.

“We will go by what the Supreme Court says,” he asserted.

The Travancore Devaswon Board (TDB), meanwhile, went into a huddle with stakeholders, including the Pandalam royal family representatives and priests, to soothe frayed tempers amid escalating protests by the Hindu right and common Ayyappa devotees. There was, however, no breakthrough.

The meeting also attended by Ayyappa Seva Samajam and Yoga Kshema Sabha ended in a deadlock as the TDB stuck to its stand of not filing a review petition.

“It is very painful and we cannot agree. We wanted a decision on filing the review petition to be taken today itself, but the board said it can be discussed only at the next meeting of TDB on October 19,” Shashikumar Varma, a member of the Pandalam royal family said.

“We all wish that Sabarimala should not be made a war zone,” Varma, the president of Pandalam Royal Palace Trust, told journalists after walking out of the meeting in a huff.

TDB president A Padmakumar, however, dismissed suggestions that the meeting was a “failure”.

“What they (stakeholders) wanted was to file the review petition now itself. But the Supreme Court is closed till October 22. They also wanted to maintain the status quo on the customs and traditions.

“As the Supreme Court has passed a verdict, what can the board do? But the board will continue to talk with them to resolve the issue,” Padmakumar said. He said the October 19 meeting will take up the issue of the review petition.

Kerala has witnessed a series of protests and prayer marches over the last few days over the government’s decision to enforce the Supreme Court order.

The Shiv Sena recently warned of “mass suicides” if women of menstrual age were allowed into the temple. Some other organisations have said women and girls aged between 10 and 50 years will have to tread on them before entering the temple.

Actor-turned-BJP politician Kollam Thulashi went to the extent of saying women of “banned age” visiting the shrine should be “ripped apart”.

Even though Kerala is on edge a day before the temple gates open, some intrepid women like Reshma Nishanth, a 32- year-old Kannur native, has decided to offer prayers there despite being “slut-shamed”.

Claiming she is an ardent Ayyappa devotee, she said she had started the 41-day ‘vrata’ (penance) to trek to the forest temple during the annual pilgrimage season beginning Wednesday. She wears the ‘bead chain’ and locket with the image of Lord Ayyappa as part of the customary rituals before proceeding to Sabarimala.

“A large number of people have extended support for my decision to visit the shrine. But slut-shaming and body shaming are also going on,” she said Monday.

Bindhu, a young homemaker from Kozhikode also plans to visit the shrine with 30 other women during the three-month-long Mandala-Makaravilakku season.

The TDB, meanwhile, covered a signboard at the base camp in Pamba which said the entry of women of menstrual age into the temple was prohibited.

The multi-lingual board reading “Women between 10-50 are not allowed to visit Sannidhanam (Sabarimala temple)” was covered in the evening with a plastic banner that said: “Use of plastic is prohibited here”.

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Legal perspective being sought for quotas for upper castes in Bihar: Nitish Kumar

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Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister today on Monday declared his government will implement quotas for the economically-backward among the unreserved category once they get a legal perspective concerning the suitable modalities.

Nitish Kumar stated that a legal perspective was being sought as to whether the new quotas, which have been brought forth by way of a recent constitutional amendment and are in addition to the existing reservations, could be introduced in the state through an executive order or an Act passed in the legislature.

He also stated that we are bound by the top court judgement, which placed a cap of 50 percent on the quotas for the educationally and socially backward, but added that he is in the support of the demand for increasing the limit to make reservations proportionate to the population of the respective caste groups.

He added, “But opposition parties which are voicing the demand have no clue as to how to go about it. In my view, there should be a fresh tally wherein the separate populations of social segments like SCs, STs and OBCs is taken into account. Based on its report, the nation can move towards ensuring proportional representation for various castes”.

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PM Modi to inaugurate Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas convention in Varanasi on Tuesday

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday will inaugurate the 15th convention of the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi.

It is for the first time that the three-day long convention is being organized from 21st January to 23rd January in place of 9th January to permit the participants for visiting the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and attend the parade of Republic Day here.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s office stated that the theme of the convention for this year is ‘role of the Indian diaspora in building new India’.

The chief guest of the convention will be Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth, whereas a member of Parliament of Norway, Himanshu Gulati will be the special guest. Further, member of Parliament of New Zealand, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, will be the guest of honour.

The decision to celebrate the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas was taken by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the first event was celebrated on 9th January 2003 in Varanasi.

As a matter of fact, January 9 was picked to be the day for the celebration of Pravasi Bharatiya since it was this day in the year 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi had returned from South Africa to India.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is now celebrated once in every two years and gives a platform to the Indian community overseas for engaging with the government and reconnecting with their roots said the statement.

Pravasi Bharatiya Sammaan, is discussed on the selected overseas Indians for their imperative contributions to different spheres both abroad and in India.

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India among the most trusted nations globally: Reports

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Davos | India is among the most trusted nations globally when it comes to government, business, NGOs and media but the country’s brands are among the least-trusted, according to a report.

The The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer report released on Monday, ahead of the the World Economic Forum (WEF) meet here, noted that the Global Trust Index witnessed a marginal increase of 3 points to 52.

China topped the Trust Index among both the informed public and the general population segments, with scores of 79 and 88 respectively.

India was at the second place in the informed public category and third place in the general population category.

The Index is the average per cent of trust in NGOs, business, government and media.

The findings are based on an online survey in 27 markets covering over 33,000 respondents. The fieldwork was conducted between October 19 and November 16, 2018.

In terms of trust in companies headquartered in each market, the most trusted are those from Switzerland, Germany and Canada. The brands from these countries have a trust score of 70 each while that of Japan is 69 per cent.

However, companies headquartered in India, Mexico and Brazil are the least trusted, followed by China and South Korea, as per the report.

While the score of India and Brazil is 40 per cent, that of Mexico and China stood at 36 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively.

The report noted that there is a growing feeling of pessimism about the future, with only one-in-three mass population respondents in the developed world believing his or her family would be better off in the next five years.

Among the mass population, just one-in-five believe the system is working for them and 70 percent desire change. And despite a full-employment economy, fear of job loss remains high among the general population.

This is based on views of respondents about global companies headquartered in specific countries and how much these firms are trusted by them ‘to do what is right’.

According to the report, globally ‘my employer’ is significantly more trusted than NGOs, business, government and media

“The last decade has seen a loss of faith in traditional authority figures and institutions,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman.

When it comes to reliable sources for news, search and traditional are among the most trusted. Search and traditional media have a score of 66 each, while the score of social media is 44 per cent, the report noted.

“73 per cent worry about false information or fake news being used as a weapon,” it added.

Stephen Kehoe, global chair, Reputation at Edelman said that divergent levels of confidence between the mass population and informed public about the future signal a continued underlying rot in the structure of society.

“While not everyone is taking to the streets, the data shows why protests like the Gilet Jaunes in France, the women’s marches in India and walkouts by employees at some major tech companies could become more mainstream,” Kehoe said.

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