THE PROBLEM WITH being a believer in any God is the absoluteness of the certainty that He is going to protect you. And then, from that assumption, to make a short leap to the senseless idea that it is also your responsibility to protect Him so that He can protect you. Ultimately, between this confusion of role-play, at the point when the hypothesis is to be tested, God coolly does a disappearing act. Which is just about what you are seeing happen in Sabarimala now.
There is a Supreme Court order that now permits women of all ages to visit the pilgrimage spot. There is a Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led state government which has an avowed ideology that promotes rationalism and so is insistent on implementing that order. And there are women, even non- believers, who are making that journey to Sabarimala just to show that they want to enforce the right that has been earned. Railed against these multitude of forces are a teeming mass of believers, which includes women, who want to protect a tradition that they believe is a matter of faith and has nothing to do with gender equality. Missing in all this is God Ayyappan Himself, who should be the one with the biggest grouse, given that it is His own celibacy that is in peril when women appear before His form in the temple. In His absence, unsurprisingly, His followers have to bear the brunt of lathi-charges by the police.
And Ayyappan had better propitiate Himself soon, otherwise the battle is certainly lost. In earlier times, when a social churn made it necessary for gods to change their character, upper castes were clever enough to come out with modified myths to incorporate the new power structures. For example, the idea that women are kept out because the God is celibate would need just a few minor tweaks in an oral tradition—say, make Him a brother or father figure—that would keep everyone at peace. But now, with a secular state at the helm, upper castes have been nudged out of the equation. Also, the written word is harder to reinterpret. To deviate from a position with dignity while retaining orthodox values is a difficult ask now.
Instead, we now have tactics employed by political parties, like mobilising women to assault women who are planning to enter the temple. Obviously it has no chance of success. Faith often trumps the law in India, but at some point the pact that the country made with itself to be a modern progressive state can win. It is usually a long road and what is happening with Sabarimala is at the very end of it. There are no more postponements or secret meetings left to thresh out a solution. More male bastions will fall after this. Other religious institutions using myths to perpetuate male- dominated customs will find themselves reforming, often without as much resistance. The only way to prevent all this is for God to clarify His wishes. But He has to do it for everyone, not just those who believe in Him. And, for some reason, that has never happened.