Meet Rahul Easwar, the Angry Face of the Sabarimala Temple Protests


Meet Rahul Easwar, the Angry Face of the Sabarimala Temple Protests

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

It’s difficult to become the face of a protest movement as disjointed and chaotic as the one that has been unfolding in Sabarimala over the last few weeks. But if anyone can accomplish it, it is Rahul Easwar. At this point, we should be asking: What is it that Rahul Easwar is not capable of? And also, who is Rahul Easwar?

He is already a right-wing activist and a spokesperson for assorted Hindutva causes on TV debates in his capacity as the grandson of the head priest of Sabarimala Temple. But much before his newfound fame, he started out as a VJ on the Malayalam channel Kiran TV and later won the Bigg Boss equivalent, Malayali House. All of this led to a fledgling political career: His name reportedly figured in BJP’s candidate shortlist for the 2016 assembly elections.

In this country whose political class is premised on empty rhetoric, Easwar is the perfect aspirant. His website claims that he played a pivotal role in “bringing educational reforms to improve the quality of present educational system” in Kerala. He claims to be a graduate of IIM, Ahmedabad, and the London School of Economics, where his attendance of summer programmes and short-term courses, makes him as much an alumnus as Smriti Irani from Yale. In the field of arts, his achievements include stopping the Kerala government from giving the Raja Ravi Varma award to artist MF Husein.

His verbal callisthenics, a daily exercise on TV channels in recent weeks, can leave you spellbound. For the uninitiated, Easwar claims to be an expert on “philosophy of philosophy”, whatever that is supposed to mean, and is an author of a book by the same title. Well, you know, Rahul Easwar, Anthony “sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your verbosity” Gonsalves, #SameGuy.

However, post the apex court’s historic judgment on September 28, which finally allowed women between the ages of 10 to 50 – or those of menstruating age – to worship at Sabarimala, the rhetorician in Easwar seemed to have shed all his sophistication. Easwar, a pundit in lifeology, and a self-appointed spokesperson for all devotees and tantris, defended the discriminatory tradition. As the grandson of Tantri Kantararu Maheshwararu (head priest), whose family has been the custodian of the temple, who could explain customs to viewers better than Easwar? But no, Easwar reiterates on Twitter, he is not anti-woman at all: “Many people wrongly assume Right Wing is Anti Woman. We are only Anti West Left Feminism, we are all for Indian Womanism + familism.”

Curious behaviour from the self-anointed “Brown Madrasi” who claims the Indian flag is deeply embedded in his chest.

Let’s assume you got that – Arnab Goswami certainly did. For a while now, folks like Arnab have contributed to the legend of Easwar, giving his “philosophy of philosophies” airtime. Easwar was Republic TV’s favourite panelist regardless of the issue, debating “blind traditional glorification vs blind traditional bashing” endlessly. One vociferous love-fest only, until things got out of hand. In his enthusiasm to preserve traditions, Easwar stepped on the wrong side of the law… and the wrong side of Arnab. Forgetting his lineage and abandoning all semblance of decency, he repeatedly called our former Chief Justice, Dipak Misra,“a crook, a crook, a crook”. This grave transgression caused Arnab to refer to Easwar “as a man who has lost his balance”.

Despite this backstabbing, Easwar soldiered on. At the beginning of October, he began mobilising a large motley group of devotees – and non-devotees – for his “Ayyappan Dharma Sena” to obstruct young women devotees from entering the temple. He had tirelessly stated “feminazis” would have to “walk over his chest” to reach the temple, blowing a dog whistle for his sena to physically attack women devotees in complete contravention of the court order.

Curious behaviour from the self-anointed “Brown Madrasi” who claims the Indian flag is deeply embedded in his chest. “Just like how Indian army guards the borders, we bhakts will safeguard the temple and will not allow anyone to desecrate it,” he told a news channel. Such a patriot, who has no qualms insulting the country’s highest judicial institution.

But Easwar had little knowledge of how to lead his band of merrymen let alone discipline them. On October 17, when the doors of Sabarimala opened for the first time after the Supreme Court judgment, the Ayyappa Dharma Sena, the newest offspring of the Sangh Parivar, began to block all women on the road to Sabarimala. Easwar’s mercenary army, initially peacefully chanting God’s name, transformed within minutes into an unruly mob heckling women, vandalising vehicles, and stoning the police and women journalists at the site.

It’s true that a mob does not distinguish between friends and foes, as a Republic TV reporter found out. An incensed Arnab Goswami confronted Easwar, his former collaborator and friend. Now at the receiving end of India’s loudest TV anchor, Easwar meekly apologised, and agreed to file cases against his own Sena. Before that fortunate occurrence, though, Easwar has been remanded to judicial custody for two weeks for being the conspirator-in-chief of the protests.

But this is standard practice for anyone planning to enter public life. Some of our best leaders have been detained on charges of fomenting discontent among the masses. This can only mean one thing – we should all be prepared to see Easwar play a more active role in politics from now on. With the recent skirmish, he might just have done enough to command a BJP ticket in the forthcoming elections. Trust him, though, to philosophise those political ambitions too.

For now, however, and for the sake of his ardent fans, we hope he’ll be released at the earliest. With Easwar around, there is never a dull moment.