It was meant to be a list of 51 women under the age of 50 to substantiate the state’s claim, complete with name, age, Aadhaar numbers, addresses, and phone numbers. But by Friday evening, it left many red faces in the Kerala government as it scrambled to explain contradictions in the list.
The list, prepared by Kerala police, names women who have entered the Sabarimala temple since the Supreme Court lifted the age restriction on entry of women to the hill shrine.
Consider this: Not one name on the list was from Kerala, all women were in the age range of 41-49. The Indian Express contacted 20 women from Tamil Nadu, four from Andhra Pradesh and one from Goa. The responses varied. Read this story in Tamil
In at least nine cases, men answered and said they had no connection to the woman on the list, in six cases the person who answered said the age of the woman concerned was higher than mentioned on the list and in two instances they said the age was wrongly entered during the online booking process.
Other TV channels reporting on the story also noted that several of the women in the list were above the age of 50. Incidentally, the names of Kanakadurga and A Bindu, both from Kerala and below the age of 50, were missing in the list despite confirmation that the duo had visited the temple. The Kanakadurga whose name figures in the list is from Potheri in Tamil Nadu. No contact number was listed.
As the government’s botch was exposed, senior CPI (M) leader and Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said these women have used the online registration system (to visit the temple) but was not sure whether they had entered the shrine.
“A lot of women in the age group of 10 to 50 had registered their names for darsan. Of them, 51 had taken the queue. We don’t know whether they had darsan or not. It is not an affidavit but only a list. If someone in the list now says that her age was above 50, let them do so. We don’t have any mechanism to cross-check it,’’ he said.
M V Jayarajan, private secretary to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, said as many as 16 lakh people had registered their names in the virtual queue system for darsan at the temple. Of them, 8.2 lakh pilgrims used the online registration system for darsan. Among those registered in the virtual queue system, 7,564 were women in the age group of 10 to 50. Of them, 51 used the virtual queue system.
“The police do not verify the claims of the applicants about their age or other details. They (pilgrims) give the details for registration and bring the printout of the downloaded form at the time of their visit to the temple. There is no further cross-checking on these details by police. If someone has wrongly given their details at the time of filling the form for online registration, they have to explain it,” said Jayarajan.
According to top government sources, the list was only meant to be filed in court. “It was not meant to be publicised. We do not know how it got leaked,” the sources said.
Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar said the board was not aware of 51 women visiting the shrine. “I am not aware. At the same time, I can’t say anything about the report of the government in the court,’’ he said.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the attempt to cheat the Supreme Court was ludicrous. “The government told the Court that 51 women have visited the temple. But, when media contacted the people figured in the list, it was revealed that most of them were above 50. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan should explain why the government gave a wrong report in the court,” he said.
According to BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai, this was a government bid to cover up the humiliation it had faced from Sabarimala devotees. “The wrong report was meant to influence the review petition pending in the Supreme Court,” he said.
(With Arun Janardhanan in Chennai & Nikitha Phyllis, Liz Mathew in New Delhi)