Two women, a journalist and an activist, attempted to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple on Friday but were forced to turn back fearing violence. This comes a day after another journalist tried to climb the hill shrine but was stopped en route. Since Sabarimala opened on Wednesday, protesters have gathered in large numbers to disallow women from entering the temple, despite the Supreme Court lifting restrictions on women between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.
Journalist, activist women forced to return
Journalist Kavitha Jakkal and activist Rehana Fathima decided against ascending the hill Friday, fearing violence by protesters who had gathered in large numbers at Nadapanthal. Flanked by police personnel, and wearing protective gear, the women got as far as ‘Marakootam’ – this is where another woman was stopped Thursday – before returning to Pamba.
Mary Sweety, a woman in her 40s, also attempted to climb the hill Friday, but was stopped by the police and taken to their control room in Pamba.
Situation tense in Nadapanthal
Hundreds of people gathered in Nadapanthal, located around 500 metres from the temple, in a bid to stop the women from continuing their trek. Some were seen sitting in the middle of the road in protest as well. One protester was heard saying, “We will not allow you to take young women to the shrine. We are ready to die for our Lord.”
Trying to reason with protesters, IG Sreejith said, “I know you are devotees of Ayyappa. We are also devotees of Ayyappa. But we have been bound to follow and implement the law. You must allow us to implement the law.”
Sabarimala head priest reacts to controversy
The head priest at Sabarimala, Kantararu Rajeevaru, has said that he will close the shrine and hand over the keys to the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages this temple, if women of menstruating age enter the temple. He said he has come to this decision in consultation with the Pandalam royal family.
Protests in Erumely
Protests have simultaneously erupted in Erumely as well. Several protesters, including BJP leaders like B Gopalakrishnan, were detained by the police Friday. The traditional route to Sabarimala is from Erumeli to Sannidhanam via Pamba. Devotees trek through forest from Erumely to Pamba, which is 55 kilometres, before climbing to the temple. The protests were outside the Erumely Sree Dharma Shastha Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.
Politics over Sabarimala
In the last few days, Kerala has seen a 24-hour state-wide bandh, Section 144 imposed in several areas and violent protests. The Kerala government has indicated that it does not intend on turning Sabarimala into a conflict zone and has been very careful in addressing the issue. The government has said it will not file a review petition against the SC’s decision but is not opposed to the TDB filing one.
The Opposition Congress, meanwhile, has questioned the government’s stance on the situation. Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said, “The government must decide whether the beliefs of crores of devotees must be protected or to implement the agenda of a few women. It must not lay the ground for BJP-RSS to exploit this situation. We have been telling the govt from very early on not to take this situation lightly. It’s a failure of police intelligence.”