04th JANUARY 2019

A) Breaking barriers: on two women’s Sabarimala temple entry

The Key Is To Allow Women To Pray At Sabarimala In An Orderly Way

In facilitating the entry of two women, albeit in stealth and under the cover of darkness, the Kerala government has displayed some resolve in breaking the illegal blockade imposed by some devotees on permitting females in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala temple. This is the first time women of menstruating age have made their way into the shrine after a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in September 2018 threw the temple open to women of all ages. Under some pressure to demonstrate that it had not gone soft as a result of the upsurge of protests against the Supreme Court’s order and was keen on signalling that it was in favour of upholding the law, the government appears to have drawn up an elaborate and closely scripted plan, with assistance from the State police and civil administration, to help Bindu and Kanakadurga make their way unnoticed to the temple from the foothills at Pampa. Unfortunately, but not entirely unpredictably, news of their visit has resulted in a cycle of violent and politically orchestrated protests, clashes, and mass arrests. Tragically, one life was lost.

In the face of an illegal blockade to prevent menstruating-age women from visiting the temple, the Kerala government will regard this operation as a victory. But clearly, even it must be aware thatcovert ops such as this one are not a sustainable solution to the Sabarimala problem. The State government’s dilemma — and also its responsibility — is to find a way of ensuring safe passage for all women who want to visit the temple while keeping the peace at the same time. Given the passions at play, and the cynical attempts to politically exploit them, this is anything but an easy task. In the short term, though — and this may well have been its intent — the Left Front government has managed to alter the narrative in the Sabarimala controversy. The decision of the temple authorities to close the sanctum sanctorum and perform purification rituals hasinvoked old and regressive notions of purity and pollution, of defilement and desecration. They have focussed attention on the role of the chief priest (or Tantri) of Sabarimala, leaving him open to the charge levelled by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that his actions violated both the Supreme Court order and the Devaswom Manual. At a larger level, the entry of the two women has, perhaps inevitably, recalled Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s words in the majority judgment in the Sabarimala case. In his judgment, he had argued that the ban on women’s entry was a “form of untouchability”, and their exclusion was a “violation of the right to liberty, dignity and equality”. Meanwhile, as passions continue to escalate, it is important for the State government, the Travancore Devaswom Board and also those representing the devotees to initiate a conversation and prevent the State from being consumed in a further cycle of violence and conflict over this issue.


B) Dark side of the moon: on China’s moon mission

China’s Successful Mission Will Greatly Advance Knowledge Of Earth’s Satellite

China joined a select group of countries with successful missions to the moon, when its spacecraft, Chang’e-4, successfully made a landing at ‘10.26 on January 3’, according to the China National Space Administration. It landed at a spot on the moon’s far side, the Von Kármán crater, which is untouched by earlier missions from earth. After landing, Chang’e-4, named after the Chinese moon goddess, relayed a close-up image of the ‘far’ side of the moon through the communication relay satellite Queqiao. The Queqiao satellite was launched last May by China for the very purpose of helping Chang’e-4 communicate with earth, as a direct communication with it is not possible from the moon’s far side, which never faces earth. The Chang’e-4 mission carries payloads, of which two are in collaboration with Germany and Sweden, respectively. The instruments include cameras, low-frequency radio spectrum analyser, lunar neutron and radiation dose detectors, and many more. Among other things, the mission could pave the way to setting up a radio telescope on the far side of the moon.

Considering that earth is right next door to the moon, we know precious little about it. Its formation and early evolution present mysteries which, if understood, could guide us in planetary studies, and help in understanding exoplanets. The near side, which faces earth, has dark patterns; the far side, turned away, is marked with circular spots that are craters formed by meteorite collisions. The moon’s near side is believed to have a thinner shell, so that when meteorites bombarded it they cracked its shell, releasing lava which gushed out and covered traces of the impact and left dark patches. Being thicker, the far side did not face such an erasure and bearsthe marks of the crater impacts. This mission could verify these theories and discover the reason behind these dichotomies. The moon’s far side also differs from the near side in that it is shielded from all the radio waves emanating from earth. Communication devices and satellites have made it too noisy for radio astronomers to easily and accurately interpret signals. The near side of the moon also suffers from this problem of noise. On the other hand, the far side is a quiet place and ahaven for earthly aspirations to set up a radio telescope that could reveal astronomical mysteries, such as the structure of the universe shortly after the Big Bang. China has now joined the U.S. and the former USSR as the only countries to have made a “soft landing” on the moon. But beyond underlining China’s technological advances, Chang’e-4 could herald a new chapter in lunar exploration.