Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pongala goof-up: police file cases against devotees

This is really bizarre. Police filing cases against thousands of women who were offering pooja -- not in any remote village, but in the heart of Kerala's capital, Thiruvananthapuram. Their contention: the women were violating a court order against assembly of large number of people, and blocking traffic on main roads.

Well, the background goes like this.

The annual religious festival is called Pongala, an exclusively women's event. On that particular day (this year, it was yesterday), thousands of women, line the main roads and lanes surrounding the main venue, Bhagavathi temple at Attukal, some 2 km from the more famous Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, in Thiruvananthapuram. They cook porridge made of rice, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, raisins etc, and offer it to Devi. 

With the number of women taking part in this ritual swelling over the years, the crowd has been spilling over to main roads and lanes at a bigger radius around the temple, bringing traffic and any normal activity to a complete halt. As the festival got more popular, the ritual is now conducted in about a dozen temples across the state.

To anyone in Kerala, this is a day when normal life comes to a standstill, in a few kilometers surrounding the Attukal temple. The crowds in other towns aren't as big as in Thiruvananthapuram, but they are growing.

There's a high court order that bans taking out processions, holding roadside meetings and obstructing traffic. The order was passed in the light of many political parties holding such snap meetings and holding up normal life.

Is Pongala, any different? Normal life obstructed, yes. But this is definitely not like bandhs or party meetings called out of the blue. The temple ritual has been happening over many, many years. The date of this festival is well-marked out in all calendars. Everyone in Kerala knows very well about this festival, and they plan their schedule accordingly. It's highly unimaginable that people's lives have been thrown out of gear, when everyone knows well in advance about this festival and the fact that main roads and lanes in that locality will be blocked on that particular day.

So, how come this year alone, two police officers filed cases? Defies logic. The only reason I can think of is the approaching Piravom by-election and an attempt by someone to paint the administration in a bad light. Soon after the cases were filed, some parties took out a procession condemning the police move. The chief minister Oommen Chandy, acting swiftly, placed police officers under suspension.

But the chain events was wholly unnecessary; and just shows how logic and commonsense are easily given a go-by to achieve some cheap brownie points.

1 comment:

  1. This is the first time I have heard of police officers filing a case against a religious procession by women. The festival of Pongala as you said is so well known that it is marked in the calendar, then surely the people know better than to be walking on the road and encountering the women offering their prayers to the Devi. But election time sees many such cases, so it should not surprise us at all.