The Women's Wall formed at the initiative of the Left Democratic Front government right down the length of the state on New Year's Day with its call for protection of renaissance values, became a historic event.
The wall that lined up the 620 milometers on the left side of national high way, right from the new bus stand in Kasargod up to Vellayambalam in Thiruvananthapuram, has found a place in world's history as a unique form of collective strike. The government initiated it under the banner of a renaissance protection committee comprising over a hundred organizations - including Hindu religious and caste bodies - with huge publicity and fanfare. The exercise was part of an effort to defeat the moves to deny religious, caste and gender justice in the name of protection of tradition, as well as to oppose the agitations with the backing of the sangh parivar against the Supreme Court order allowing entry of women of all ages to Sabarimala. While the Opposition led by Congress blamed the government for misusing government machinery and holding an event dividing the people along communal lines, the sangh parivar and its supporters on the Sabarimala issue criticised that it was a government strategy to turn the people against the religious and communal groupings in the name of traditions. Finally the event which both sides had seen as their prestige issue from different angles, concluded in a manner that LDF and the government can reasonably be proud of. Of course, what the Women's Wall, which had taken the state by a kind of storm gained on the items of its slogans, is a question that the organizers are bound to answer in the coming days.
The Supreme Court issued an order on 28 September that women of menstruating age also should be allowed to enter Sabarimala. Following this the Hindutva communal forces entered the scene to capitalize on the perception by a section of believers that the court order would violate the temple's traditions. The Left government, which vowed to do what was needed to enforce the court order, however had to soften its stand once the entire Opposition including Congress joined the camp against women's entry. And because of that, although the government assured police protection, it could not facilitate the young women who came for darsan performing the rites within the temple premises. When communal forces braced themselves for political exploitation of the issue, the government put forward the idea of a Women's Wall as a social defence. But what is required of a government is not an awareness drive as expected from social and voluntary organizations, but the will to enable entry of young women into Sabarimala. What the wall achieved is a virtual declaration that such a move by the government will receive increased support of Kerala. And whether the government on the strength of that support will be prepared to take a firm stance on Sabarimala, or it will neutralize its own victory with the wall by kneeling before vote bank, is a matter that Kerala will watch keenly.
All the same it would be against logic and facts to see the women's wall as recapturing renaissance values, rather than as a political tactic against the reactionary communal attempts by the sangh parivar to defeat the entry of women to Sabarimala, aiming at vote bank politics. For, it was always religious reformers, not political parties or leaders that fought against making Kerala a lunatic asylum through caste and communal attitudes, and against decadent social milieu and to bring in reforms with renaissance endeavours. Not only that, it was in causing a setback from the reformation values assiduously won by social reformers, that the narrow caste, religious and communal opportunism of political parties the chief played a role. It is dead certain that the life span of the current exhortations based on renaissance values happening all over the state, will end with the general elections to happen two or three months from now. When that comes around, poll alliances, choice of candidates, and even electoral promises and topics of campaigns will all strictly adhere to convenction, and be in compliance with caste-communal criteria. The very fact that when renaissance and the wall figured in the debates in connection with Sabarimala, they were limited to sections of a certain community, is evidence of adherence to this 'electoral tradition'. Finally, when calls arose from other communities that the credit of renaissance was exclusively being given to a limited section, the advocates of the wall were forced to add the names of reformers from other communities as well, again only in recognition of the value of this vote bank.
In Kerala, the zealous drives of reform against superstitions and evil practices among social crucial religious believers was initiated by the reformers from within the very communities. The names taken up for discussion for the Women's Wall today are mostly those who set about as corrective movement within their own religious, caste and community circles. And any further progress in that direction can be achieved only by them. And the most pertinent question in this context is whether the political parties of Kerala have the strength to support them without considering the wind direction. . And the meaning or risks of the historic event of Women's Wall hinges on the responses for such questions in practice.