Kanaka Durga, who was assaulted and ousted from her home after her historic entry in the Sabarimala temple, following the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine, was elated when a village court in Malappuram district allowed her to return to her family on 5 February. However, her joy turned into gloom when she found the home empty. Her husband Krishnanunni and mother-in-law Sumathi had deserted the house, taking along with them her 12-year-old twin sons when she returned home on Tuesday evening.
Ostracised by her relatives and neighbours, the 39-year-old woman has been living like a prisoner in her house, surrounded by a posse of police personnel deputed by the state government for her security. Durga, who has etched her name in the history as one of the first two women to enter the forbidden temple for the first time after the apex court lifted the ban on women of childbearing age on 28 September, is not disheartened by the backlash. The woman, who was lauded for the courage she displayed in defying the violent protests, is gearing up for another battle to regain her normal life with her husband and children. Durga, who works with the state-owned civil supplies corporation, shares her travails with Firstpost in this exclusive interview. Here are the edited excerpts from the conversation:
How do you feel returning home after darshan in the Sabarimala temple?
I am feeling very sad because my husband had left the home with his mother and two children before I came with the court order, allowing me to return to the family. I don’t know where they are. I am also not able to communicate with my husband as he has blocked my number. I miss my children badly. I have been missing them ever since I left the house in the last week of December to go to Sabarimala. I met them hardly for ten minutes when I returned home after the temple visit but could not talk to them as I was assaulted and thrown out of the house by my mother-in-law. The children were crying when I was taken to the hospital. I know my children too are missing me.
What do you plan to do to get the custody of the children?
I had prayed for the custody of the children in the petition I had filed before Pulamanthol Gram Nyalaya, seeking court intervention to return home. The court has scheduled the hearing on the plea for the children’s custody on 11 March while allowing me to return home. I cannot wait till then. I want the children with me immediately. I have sought the help of the Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights to get the children back.
Is your husband planning to divorce you?
I don’t know his intentions. I have not talked to him ever since I left the home. He has not revealed anything to his friends either. I returned home on 15 January with the hope that I will be able to resume my family life with my husband and children. I have no issues with him and my mother-in-law. I am prepared to live my normal life with the family.
Why do you think your husband and family are so angry with you?
They are from a conservative family with strong belief in Hindu culture and traditions. They could never imagine anybody from the family breaking these customs. They would have locked me up in the house if I had told them that I would go to Sabarimala. I left the home saying that I was going to the state capital in connection with an official work. They could not come to terms with my action. Still I hoped that they will accept me. The threats mounted by the right-wing outfits could also be a factor behind their hostile reaction. They may be feeling that I have risked their life.
Do you see any chance for reconciliation?
I am optimistic. Time will heal all the wounds. I have not done anything wrong. I had only exercised the right granted by the country’s top court. I hope the people protesting against our temple visit will realize this and leave us and our family alone.
Have you received any threats to your life?
I have been getting threatening calls ever since I entered the temple. I have received two threatening letters even after I have returned home. One of the threat mails I received, claim that I will be killed after the Lok Sabha election.
Are you afraid of the threats?
I am not afraid because I have not done any harm to anybody. I feel it is an emotional reaction. I hope this will die down as time passes. These kinds of reactions are natural when one fights for change. I don’t think they will continue permanently. I am okay even if they continue the grudge against me. I am not afraid of death. Everybody has to die one day. I am happy to die for a cause I believe is just.
Are your neighbours and colleagues in your workplace supportive of you?
I have not seen any of my neighbours since I returned home on 5 January. None of them have contacted me. I think they are keeping away from me because of the police. I have no problem in my office. My colleagues and superiors have lauded my visit and have extended their full support to me. My friends and progressive sections of people from across the state and outside have also been calling me and expressing solidarity with me.
What about your parents and siblings?
Except one brother who calls me occasionally and asks about my condition, all others are hostile towards me. One of my brother has even come out against me. I don’t think any of them will support me.
What made you to go to Sabarimala when outraged protesters surrounded the hill, abusing and even beating up women who dared to enter the temple?
I am a believer of God and a proponent of women’s rights. I had strong feelings against discrimination of women because of menstruation as I had faced several menstrual taboos in my family. I was isolated in a room and not allowed to touch anything in the house, including drawing water from well during my menstrual period. The Supreme Court verdict championed both the causes I stood for. Hence, I decided to avail the opportunity.
There have been allegations that you and your friend Bindu Ammini had gone to Sabarimala at the behest of the government.
It’s not right. Women who liked to go to Sabarimala had formed several groups after the apex court lifted the ban on menstruating women. I was member of the Facebook and Whatsapp groups that was formed to motivate and support women who wanted to go to the temple. I met Bindu in the group called ‘Renaissance Kerala towards Sabarimala’. Several women like us had joined these groups and had prepared to go to Sabarimala. Most of them backed out after seeing the violent protests.
However, we two decided to go ahead. Accordingly, we went to Sabarimala on 26 December but the protesters turned us away. But, we were not ready to back out. We sought police assistance and made it to the temple with their support on 2 January. No political party or agency were behind us as propagated by those who opposed the entry of young women in the temple.
Did you expect a backlash against your action? How do you feel about it?
I had expected strong repercussions from the right-wing outfits opposing the entry of women in the temple. I had gone to Sabarimala with the expectation that I will have to face violent protests. I was willing to face them because I was personally convinced that reforms in customs and rituals were inevitable.
Do you regret your decision to go to Sabarimala in view of the bitter experiences?
Absolutely not. I have no feeling that what I have done was a mistake and I should not have done it. I don’t think so now and will never do in future too in spite of all the difficulties that I am facing now. I have also no feeling that it has ruined my life. When we examine history, we can find such stiff opposition to changes in the society. Change is inevitable for the progress of the society. This is one such incident. Hence, I don’t think that what I have done is wrong. I have no regrets.