AS THE Sabarimala temple opened for the two-month-long annual pilgrimage season amid tight security on Saturday, police stopped at least 10 young women from trekking to the hill shrine.
Police sources said the 10 women of menstruating age were part of a group of about 50 people from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. “They were on a tour of temples in the region, and their itinerary included Sabarimala. Our personnel deployed at the Pamba base station politely dissuaded them from going to the shrine. They agreed to stay back at Pamba, while the others in the group went up to the temple,’’ said a senior police officer.
To stop young women from going to the shrine, police have decided to check all vehicles at Nilakkal — the first base station from where pilgrims are allowed to proceed to Pamba. Women police constables have been deployed in the area.
The latest stand is in stark contrast to the CPM-led government’s position last year when the Supreme Court had lifted the traditional bar on women of menstruating age from entering the temple. This is the second pilgrim season after the Supreme Court’s ruling in September 2018.
Last year, the government had pushed firmly to implement the court order, while equating the entry of young women to the Left’s commitment to ensuring gender justice and protecting the renaissance traditions of the state. However, this move led to largescale protests that contributed to the Left alliance ending up with just one seat out of 20 in the Lok Sabha polls.
On Friday, a day after the Supreme Court referred review petitions on the entry of women of all ages in Sabarimala to a larger bench, the Kerala government pointed to “grey areas” in the judgment and indicated that it is “not going to take young women to the temple”.
With the government changing its stand, the base stations of Erumeli, Nilakkal and Pamba remained calm on Saturday.
However, the Sabarimala Action Council and various Hindu organisations have still deployed squads to check the entry of young women. “At present, we have deployed 300 people at the base stations, trekking route and the temple itself. The numbers will increase in the coming days,” said a leader of the council.
Meanwhile, CPM state secretary and politburo member Kodiyeri Balakrishnan sought to justify the government’s rethink on the issue. “A government has to act as per the prevailing rules and court verdicts. When there was a verdict on women’s entry, the government discharged its constitutional obligation by implementing the court order. Now, the government wants to implement the latest order also. However, there is a lot of confusion regarding the latest order and the government wants to get a clear picture before going ahead with it,’’ he said in a Facebook post.
“The change in the government’s stand is a setback for the renaissance movement and progressive face of the government. Last year’s order on entry of women has not been stayed by the court,’’ said Punnala Sreekumar, general secretary of the Renaissance Protection Committee, set up by the state government last year in the wake of the apex court’s order.
While scores of young women, including activists, attempted to visit the temple last year, only two are known to have officially entered the shrine with police protection.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court concluded that its September 28, 2018 judgment lifting age restrictions on the entry of women may impinge on the affairs of other religions too and will require a more detailed examination. In a 3-2 decision, the apex court decided that petitions seeking review of the verdict will be kept pending till a larger bench of seven judges takes a call on the matter.