“I trusted the words of our Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. I entered the temple because he assured us that women can do so. Then why am I not safe?”, asks Bindu Ammini.
On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that every Hindu pilgrim, regardless of their age, caste and gender, has the right to enter the Sabarimala temple. On November 16, 2018, Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, announced with great pride that the state would implement the Supreme Court order. Women of all age groups can enter the temple, he asserted.
On January 5 2022, Bindu Ammini was brutally attacked, again. An RSS party member assaulted her repeatedly on the street, again. Many people gathered around to watch and cheer the attacker, videos of the public assault were shared widely on social media, no action was taken against her attacker, and police protection for her was withdrawn, again. The Supreme Court’s order to the state to give her full-time police protection was violated again, and cyber bullies made a fake porn video of her, again.
The perpetrators faced no consequences, again. This is the devastating reality of Bindu Ammini, the one Dalit woman out of the two women who exercised their legal right to enter the Sabarimala temple on January 2, 2019. She has been attacked over ten times since she entered the temple.
Bindu Ammini is a Dalit activist and lecturer of law. Bindu Ammini got on a Zoom call with Soja Subhagar on January 26 2022, while she was admitted to the hospital, recovering from the injuries caused by Mohandas, the Sangh Parivar activist who assaulted her publicly on January 5.
Soja Subhagar: If it was another feminist activist who entered the temple… how would you have shown your solidarity? Do you wish the larger society had supported you differently?
Bindu Ammini: Since I entered the temple, I have been hospitalised multiple times. Not due to natural illness but as a result of the violence I had to experience in response to my activist work. Who would be my bystanders at the hospital? Who would take care of me? No one but my partner and my daughter. No one else cared enough to be there for me. I’d wish for people to imagine extending care and nurture beyond their ‘traditional families’.
I was attacked multiple times. One was a murder attempt. They drove over me with an auto-rickshaw.
When other activists or social workers face similar attacks, I call them. I ask them if I can be their bystander at the hospital. This is especially important for women who are social workers. We often deprioritise our familial duties to give more to our communities and our society. Social worker women must be considered like family.
I’m not looking for a reward or financial support for what I do. What I wish is for our people to hold one another with care. Oftentimes, the only people who offer me support are other social workers who are also surviving a crisis.
Soja Subhagar: Your work benefits each of us, and we owe you protection and support. What has your journey been like, engaging in social issues, and how did you decide to enter the temple?
Bindu Ammini: I remember being a school student who felt haunted by the pain of my community, and I was moved to act. Bringing healing to Adivasi-Dalit women became the focus of my work, and I soon realised that such a movement wouldn’t exist without trans people and all silenced voices coming together. After studying law and starting to teach the constitution at the law college, I’ve felt acutely aware of the rise of Hindu fascism targeting Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims.
Sabarimala was once a place of worship for Dalit and Adivasi communities before it was taken over by Brahmanical dominance. So when I read about the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala, I was elated! However, I didn’t plan to visit the temple. Soon protests and mob violence broke out. The women who attempted to enter the temple were getting attacked. I began to feel haunted by the scars these incidents were leaving on women’s self-respect and sense of autonomy. I was witnessing the terror of Brahmanical domination. It was deeply disturbing. I was moved to act, so I decided to enter the temple. I only did what any self-respecting woman would have done.
Soja Subhagar: What was it like since you made that decision?
Bindu Ammini: Well, I didn’t imagine it as an individual’s act of resistance but as part of a collective movement. I was a part of a collective, which is also where I met Kanaka Durga (the other women who entered the temple). As we drew closer to the date of entering, the commotion had grown tense, so I had to be careful to make sure I could successfully enter the temple.
Soja Subhagar: At the time, did you worry about what would happen after you entered the temple?
Bindu Ammini: I was doing it to reclaim the dignity of womanhood, so what after-effect could I have imagined?
Afterwards, people said I deserved the attacks since I must have expected consequences. It was too hurtful to hear that.
When someone takes action for a social cause, ideally, everyone must have their back…at least other activists, but what I experienced was a social boycott and deliberate acts to exclude me. Some refused to share their state with me. It’s only now after I was attacked again, that some of them reconnected with me.
Soja Subhagar: I’m sorry that it had to get to this place for some people to open their eyes… How do you feel about them?
Bindu Ammini: They call themselves activists, but they play safe just so they can protect their privileges and not lose social acceptance. I feel sympathy for them…not empathy. If I had prioritised my comfort, I wouldn’t call myself an activist. I stand on my truth without fearing the loss of privileges…despite all external pressures forcing me to succumb.
I don’t raise any funds. I spend money out of my pocket to travel and organise. So I struggle financially, yet I survive. This is the struggle of many activists. They work on the ground for years, but their names aren’t even heard. People like Gomati who selflessly dedicate themselves to social work must be offered financial support. That solidarity is our responsibility.
Soja Subhagar: If you’re comfortable talking about the recent attacks you had to experience, can you please tell us what you wish we reflect on?
Bindu Ammini: Television news channels are inviting misogynists like Rahul Easwar to speak on this issue, so it becomes an echo chamber. The reality is far from what the media shows us.
Out of the three crores of Kerala’s population—- how many people attacked me? How many people attacked the other women who entered or tried to enter the temple?
The answer is just a handful! But somehow, these few attackers are made to look representative of the entire population of three crores! There are less than 0.001% of people radicalised enough to attack women like me! These radicalised attackers, who constitute 0.001% of the population together with the possibly 5% people who are against women entering the temple — they get to represent the larger society…this is a failure of the leftist political parties. They just gave up on it due to fear of losing votes.
I meet so many young women who just run up to me, hug me and embrace me with so much pride for the work that I do. They consider me as family. When I think of the number of people who support my work…The number of people who attacked me is less than a fraction of a fraction. I’m not saying that the majority supports the entry of women… However, in my personal experience, in my social circles, most people support the verdict. They support me… sometimes explicitly, sometimes silently. However, the number of people who attack women, the number of these criminals is very few, so I consider it a failure of the Leftists that these fifty-or-so people criminals seem to be ‘representing’ the larger population.
We have a Left-wing government in power, but they make some poor assumptions about our people [Kerala’s population]: ‘the majority is religious’, ‘the majority is against gender equality’, ‘the majority is against women entering the temple’ etc. Based on these presumptions, they do a balancing act, which goes like offering selective support for women entering the temple while also conveniently choosing silence sometimes.
Also read: The Sabarimala Controversy: Women And Their Right To Pray
Why else would the state withdraw police protection? The only time I asked them to briefly pause the protection was during the floods. I trusted the words of our Chief Minister Pinarayi
Vijayan. I entered the temple because he assured us that women could do so. Then why am I not safe?
Also read: Book Review: Women And Sabarimala By Sinu Joseph
Featured image source: Mahabali