Kerala has been in ferment ever since the Supreme Court, in its September 28 verdict, allowed women of all ages to enter the hill shrine of Sabarimala. In a 4-1 verdict, the apex court had struck down entry ban on women of menstruating age, saying the centuries-old custom at the shrine was not an essential religious practice and “the attribute of devotion to divinity cannot be subjected to the rigidity and stereotypes of gender”.
While the ruling LDF government said it is duty bound to implement the apex court verdict, the main opposition Congress and BJP have sided with the protestors resulting in violent clashes between the authorities at the base camp of the hill shrine.
Here are the major highlights of the protests which have taken place after the top court’s verdict. Follow Sabarimala LIVE Updates Here
October 17: The shrine opens amid protests
The protests intensified as the Kerala government decided to implement the apex court order by providing safety to women trekkers of ‘prohibited age’. On October 17, the shrine opened to violent protests as both male and female devotees created blockades at the base camp Nilakkal for women from ‘prohibited age’ entering the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Things spiralled out of control when the mob stopped state transport buses and cars carrying pilgrims from Nilakkal to Pamba, the last halt before Sabarimala. While the police looked on, the protesters vented their ire on the media, assaulting women journalists and smashing windscreens of the vehicles in which they were travelling.
Two women journalists from The News Minute and Republic TV were among those attacked. TV channels News 18 and India Today also claimed their crew was attacked.
The police had to resort to lathicharge to contain the mob which started hurling stones at them. An elderly woman got hurt by one such slingshot from the protestors. Two women cancelled their trips to the shrine due to clashes and lack of police protection.
In the next three days, the protests intensified as the police had to impose Section 144 in the area. Madhavi, a 45-year-old woman from Andhra Pradesh, could have become the first woman to trek the Sabarimala hills after the Supreme Court verdict but was forced to retreat with her son and daughter because of angry activists of Ayyappa Dharma Sena after walking a few metres towards the shrine.
Another woman, travelling to Sabarimala, was stopped at a bus stand and asked to return. A couple from Tamil Nadu, aged 45 and 40, on their way to Pamba, were forced to get off. The BJP and Congress demanded a review of the apex court verdict. Kerala BJP leader Shobha Surendran warned of “severe action” if the police touch “any Hindu devotee”. The state Shiv Sena also threatened ‘mass suicide’of activists if women of all ages entered the temple.
On October 19, two other women were stopped from entering the temple. The two women who made the journey were Rehana Fathima, 31, of Kochi, and journalist Kavitha from Andhra Pradesh. Both reached the police station at Pamba, seeking police protection to go up the hill. However, their trek was cut short by the protestors. Rehana faced the consequences of her attempt as she was boycotted from the Muslim community and her house was vandalised.
Later, a Christian woman from Kazhakkuttom, Mary Sweety (46), reached Pamba with an intention to visit the temple. Police, however, refused her protection and sent her back.
November 5: Temple reopens with Section 144 in place
The temple reopened on November 5 for a two-day ritual, Chithira atta vishesham, with Section 144 still imposed in the area. On the first day, a woman in her late 20s attempted to trek the hill shrine with her family but was advised by the police to return considering the risk involved.
Unlike previous years, devotees thronged in thousands this time. A section of pilgrims was angry over the fewer number of buses plying between Nilakkal and Pamba.
A 52-year-old woman got injured as the protestors confused her to be from the ‘prohibited age’. However, when she verified her age, she was accorded to the temple by the devotees safely.
November 17: Trupti Desai jumps into the scene
Ahead of reopening of the temple November 17, the Kerala government called an all-party meet to review the facilities at the temple ahead of the upcoming pilgrim season. The meeting, held on November 15, did not yield any result as both the BJP and the Congress staged a walkout, accusing the state government of acting with a ‘hidden agenda’.
The temple opened again on November 17 with over 700 women registering their names with the police seeking protection during trekking. However, no woman has made the trek yet.
Activist Trupti Desai of Bhumata Brigade also vowed to attempt trekking Sabarimala on November 17 but was prevented from leaving the airport in a siege that lasted almost 14 hours. Desai announced that she was returning to Pune, citing “law and order” problems. She also said that she will return for the trek unannounced this time.
Kerala BJP general secretary K Surendran was taken into “preventive custody” and removed from Nilakkal, a base camp, on Saturday night, hours after Hindu Aikya Vedi state president P Sasikala was detained by the police at Marakootam. Police action on Surendran triggered heavy protests by BJP workers, with party’s state president P S Sreedharan Pillai announcing a state-wide protest on Sunday.
Sasikala, who was on a pilgrimage to the Lord Ayyappa temple, was taken into preventive custody at 2.30 am Saturday after she allegedly defied directions not to spend the night on the temple complex. Police had decided not to allow devotees enter the temple premises when it was closed for the night.
On Monday, however, she was allowed to go to Sabarimala after she signed a police condition letter that she will return in 6 hours and will not make any provocative statements to the media.
November 18: BJP, RSS protest outside Kerala CM’s house against detention of Sabarimala devotees
A large number of BJP and RSS workers protested outside the official residence of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan late Sunday night against the detention of over 30 persons at Sabarimala Temple. The members of the BJP and RSS had gathered in front of Cliff House– Vijayan’s official residence at Nanthancode in Thiruvananthapuram.
Simultaneous protests were also held at various places across the state in Aranmula, Kochi, Kollam, Alapuzha, Ranni, Thodupuzha, Kaladi, Malappuram and Idukki among others. The protesters were taken into preventive custody Sunday night at the Sabarimala Temple after fresh protests broke out at Nadapanthal area in Sannidhanam where hundreds of devotees agitated against the police restrictions.