Revisiting the 1950 Sabarimala Attack, decoding the Arson Case report

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On the night of June 16th, 1950, the Dewasowm board intimated the Police of an attack on Sabarimala. The Shantikaran had found the temple in wrecks, the Sreekovil, the Mandapam, along with the store-room was completely gutted by fire and the idol was severely damaged. The temple which was last closed on May 20th, 1950, had no traces of habitation in the immediate stretch of 10 to 15 miles. It was so well-maintained that chances of an accidental fire eruption were non-existent. The Shanthikaran stated that there were clear evidences that,

“The storeroom and kitchen quarters have been forcibly entered into, vessels having been thrown out, and that a kerosene lantern was found in the Sreekovil.”

The DSP, Quilon and Party who visited the location at the earliest opportunity found the following:

There were 15 cut marks on the door leading to the Sreekovil.
The idol was found broken, with its head, left hand palm, and fingers severed. There were several cut marks on the face and forehead of the idol.

There were evidences that spoke of the great effort had been made to set fire to the temple and spoke of a deliberate action. It was clearly a case of well plotted conspiracy against Sabarimala. We are talking about the 1950s, an age that had yet to witness the “third wave of feminism” that dominates in the garb of gender-equality, hence possibilities of an angry group of women attacking the temple was nibbed in the butt. Possibilities of the Dewasom party, Potti or worshippers causing the fire were ruled out after detailed investigations. It was examined that theft was also not the motive of the miscreants as no valuables were reported to be missing. Then who were behind this barbarous attack and what aim were they pursuing?

“From the examination of the scene of occurrence and attendant circumstances, it was possible to come to a conclusion that the offence was a deliberate one well-conceived and executed. There was a touch of open vandalism and desecration was the only purpose.”

It was decided to be a hate-crime directed at hurting religious sentiments. Investigations were carried out on members of all communities and careful arguments in favor and against them were adduced.

This couldn’t have been the doing of one person; travelling through the dense forest in which the shrine was situated, staying there, destroying the place and returning – this needed a group of people with familiarity of the location, the route and had a stimulating hatred for it also.

Quoting the enquiry report of Shri K Kesava Menon, Sabarimala Temple Arson Case,

“…Christians have got more familiarity and knowledge than the Hindus in this direction, as they and they alone occupy the places at the base of these hills and they are the only persons who hunt and poach in the vicinity of the temple day in and day out.”

It was concluded that the Hindus, worshippers or otherwise, had no influence over the area and could not set foot to it without being noticed by the Christians who were based near the foothill. This temple brought in great income for the Hindus, and it was visited by all devotees irrespective of upper or lower caste denominations, and thus acted as a binding force among the members of an otherwise fragmented community. Nevertheless, multiple parallel theories were drawn to link the Hindus with the vandalism, and each one of those were busted after thorough investigations and reasonings. It was observed that the Hindus had collectively and repeatedly voiced out against hunting of animals in this area and exploiting of the virgin forests by other communities for cultivation purposes.

The partition of the country had left ugly signs of disharmony among religious groups and the fact that ‘low-caste’ Hindus were slowly being absorbed into Christianity was not sitting well with the Hindus. However, the temple of Aiyyapa acted as the nucleus that kept many lower caste Hindus from giving into the monetary greed offered by the missionaries, and hence, had become the eyesore of the conversion forces. That even some non-Hindus visited Sabarimala to cure illness and seek the celibate deity’s blessings frustrated their dodgy designs some more.

Following an exhaustive investigation, converted Syrian Christians/Roman Catholics were inferred to be responsible for this transgression. These investigations brought to light remnants of numerous ruined temples also. The dismantled stone idol was replaced by a five-metal idol. The Sabarimala temple now boasts a gold-plated roof at the sanctum sanctorum, two mandapams, and the balikalpura with the altar. In 1969, a dhwajam was also installed.

68 years hence, in the name of gender equality, the temple has again become the target of another, more institutionalized and intellectualized conspiracy. But had demolition of gender-based discrimination been the motive, they would have brought objection to the several thousands, if not lakhs, of places of worship belonging to various faiths in India, that forbid one gender or another. Why has this remote temple in a jungle come under their radar? Will Sabarimala survive this blow?