This month’s Sabarimala pilgrimage — the first after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 in the famed Kerala temple — will end at 10 pm on Monday, even as no woman previously barred could successfully step inside the shrine in the five days it remained open. The temple opened its doors for puja at 5 pm on October 17.
At least 12 women in the age group of 10-50 undertook the trek to the shrine of Lord Ayyapa in vain. Massive security cover could not prevail against the mounting protests by devotees and priests of the temple who blocked the entry, with the head priest-for the first time-threatening to lock the door of the temple if women attempted to enter.
On September 28, though the Supreme Court struck down the provisions of The Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 that banned women between the age of 10 and 50 from the temple, the historic verdict could not be implemented — at least not this time.
While the ruling CPM has decided to follow the Supreme Court verdict and not appeal for a review, the opposition Congress and BJP in the state have sided with the protesters and are seeking a review. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan held his ground even as protests intensified and warned stern action against those who prevented women from entering the temple.
Hours before the doors of the temple in Kerala opened on Wednesday evening, the base camp of Nilakkal descended into chaos with clashes erupting between the police and thousands of protesters. A large mob of protesters assembled at Nilakkal and prevented any woman from going upward the shrine. There were reports of attacks on journalists and media crew as well. Both Nilakkal and Pamba also saw protests led by different parties, including the Congress and the BJP.
A family of four from Andhra Pradesh, including a 40-year-old woman, tried to trek the Sabarimala hills to reach the temple but was forced to return to Pamba by agitated male devotees.
Liby, a woman from Kerala’s Alappuzha, also in the 10-50 year age group, was prevented from proceeding to Sabarimala at Pathanamthitta bus terminal. She was escorted to safety by police. As a precautionary measure, Section 144 of the CrPC was imposed and private buses stayed off the road.
A 24-hour strike was called by Sabarimala Samrakshana Samiti protesting the police action on devotees of Ayyappa at Nilakkal.
Following aggressive protests, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the temple, said it was ready for any compromise to bring peace to the hill shrine, including a review petition. TDP president is ruling CPM party leader A Padmakumar. So far, TDB had toed the line of the CPM-led state government, saying it would not move a review petition against the Supreme Court order.
The day was mostly uneventful in the light of the state-wide bandh called by the Hindu outfit and backed by the NDA.
At least three women, in the age bracket of 10-50, were forced to return from the temple shrine following violent protests that only mounted on the third day of the opening of the temple this season.
Escorted by security personnel and armed with helmets and body gear, journalist Kavitha Jakkala from Hyderabad and women’s rights activist Rehana Fathima from Kochi were forced to return from the temple hilltop, merely 500 metres from the Lord Ayyapa shrine, amid threats by the temple priest, Thantri Kandararu Rajeevaru, to shut down the temple if they entered. Rehana’s house was also attacked by a mob following reports of her visit to the shrine.
The adamant stand of the thantri stemmed from a direction from the erstwhile royal family, which once owned the temple as its family property but handed it over to the government in 1949.
State Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran subsequently stated that the government cannot provide protection to “activists who have come to prove their power in Sabarimala”
Later in the day, Mary Sweety, a woman in her 40s, also attempted to climb the hill but was adviced by the police to return,
Orders prohibiting the assembly of more than four people, which were promulgated at the temple complex, Pamba and Nillakal, were extended till Monday. the day the temple closes.
With protests at the temple showing no signs of waning, the TDB said it would file a detailed report on the “grave situation” before the Supreme Court.
The standoff continued on day four with another failed attempt by a 42-year-old woman from Kollam district to visit the shrine after the police said it will be difficult for them to provide escort given the inclement weather.
The woman, S P Manju, who was earlier associated with Kerala Dalit Maha Federation, left Pamba in the evening and told the media that she has not abandoned her attempt to get to Sabarimala temple.
With prohibitory orders under Section 144 extended to Sabarimala, Pamba, Nilakkal and Elavunkal until Monday, there were no protests on Saturday.
A massive protest broke out in Pampa after two women from Andhra Pradesh attempted to enter the temple. The women, who are said to be in their 40s, reached the foothills of the temple when they were stopped by a group of protesters chanting religious slogans. The duo was escorted safely escorted by police personnel to Nilakkal, the Sabarimala base camp.
A total of six women were prevented from the entering the Sabarimala temple Sunday, reported PTI.
Meanwhile, CPM ministers locked horns with the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam over the latter’s direction to the Sabarimala thantri (priest) that the temple should be closed down if women of menstruating age entered the shrine.
The Sabarimala temple closed Monday evening at 10 pm after the 5-day puja. Bindu, a Dalit activist, who was proceeding to Pamba at the foothills of the temple was given police protection at her request. However, when the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation bus she was travelling on with police personnel was about to reach Pamba, a group of BJP workers and those opposing the entry of girls and women aged between 10 and 50
years into the temple, blocked the road and forced her to alight, PTI reported.