Kerala braced for fresh protests after an all-party meeting called ahead of the November 17 opening of the Sabarimala shrine for the two-month pilgrim season ended in a stalemate Thursday. Opposition parties walked out after the state government maintained it was duty-bound to implement the Supreme Court order allowing entry of women of all age into the hill shrine. At the meeting, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rejected the Opposition suggestion that the government seek time from the Supreme Court to implement its order since a clutch of review petitions are to come up for hearing before the top court on January 22.
The Congress-led UDF and the BJP staged a walkout, calling the meeting a “farce” and slamming the government for its “adamant stand”.
Two days ago, the Supreme Court, while agreeing to hear petitions seeking a review of its September 28 verdict allowing women of all age to pray at the hill shrine, made it clear it was not staying its order. Kerala has witnessed widespread protests ever since the order, the devotees angry over the decision to end the centuries-old ban on the entry of women in the 10-50 age group.
DGP Loknath Behera told reporters that police were ready to face any situation at Sabarimala. He said devotees will not be allowed to stay on the temple premises during night. According to Behera, 700 women have registered with
police, evincing interest to visit Sabarimala. They have been given phone numbers to contact police who, he said, would provide necessary help for darshan. Prohibitory orders have been issued at Sabarimala and adjoining areas.
Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Sabarimala temple, plans to move court to seek more time to implement the Supreme Court order.
TDB president A Padmakumar said the board has taken an in-principle decision to approach court. “We will take a final decision on this very soon. The board will intervene to protect the interest of the faithful. Sabarimala cannot be allowed to become a war zone,’’ he said.
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After the all-party meeting, Vijayan said his government was duty-bound to implement the court order. “The government has no other option as Supreme Court has made it clear that the September 28 verdict has not been stayed, which means women in the 10-50 age group have the right to visit the Sabarimala temple,” he told reporters.
The government, he said, cannot say that belief is above the Constitution. He said the government put forward certain suggestions, including setting apart certain days for young women to offer prayers, instead of all days. These had to be discussed with all stakeholders, he said.
But consensus eluded the meeting. Ramesh Chennithala, Leader of Opposition in the state assembly, accused the government of being “adamant”, while Kerala BJP president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the meeting was a “waste of time”.
Chennithala said the government is not ready for a climbdown. “It was a great opportunity for the government to ensure peace at Sabarimala. We expected that the Chief Minister would change his stand in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to consider the review petitions in January. The government has rejected our demand that the order on young women should be delayed until the court considers the review petitions. This is a challenge to the devotees,’’ he said.
Kerala BJP president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the Chief Minister should have “shunned his stubbornness” on the issue. “The CPM government want to destroy Sabarimala. It wants to unleash violence against the devotees. We are meeting tomorrow to decide the future course of agitation, which would be expanded outside Kerala,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Pandalam royal family, associated with the temple, told the Chief Minister that there was no change in its stand on the rituals and traditions of the shrine and it was against the entry of young women.
The views were conveyed during talks held separately by the Chief Minister with Sasikumar Varma and Thantri (head priest) Kandararu Rajeevaru.
“We are against the entry of young women. There is no change in the stand,” Varma told reporters. He said the Chief Minister had informed them about the limitations of the government regarding the court order. Kandararu Rajeevaru said “we can only appeal to young women not to come to Sabarimala”.