The steep, winding concrete road to Attathodu Colony cuts away from the state highway 67 about two kilometers from Nilakkal on the way to the Sabarimala temple. Located within the Ranni forest division on the banks of river Pamba, the Attathodu colony, once exclusively home to tribal residents, today has a mixed population. The nearly 300-odd families here are among the closest human habitation to the famed shrine of Lord Ayyappa, perched atop a hill which receives millions of devotees every year.
Ayyappan Perumal, the head of the colony, claims to share the ‘general sentiment’ of its residents with regard to the recent protests over the Supreme Court ruling ending age-restrictions on the entry of women at Sabarimala.
“If young women climb the hill, everything will be destroyed. Ever since I was born, I have never seen a woman between the age of 10 and 50 enter the temple. From Attathodu, no woman will go there,” he speaks, in a matter-of-fact tone. Ayyappan belongs to the ‘malapandaram’ tribe.
His elder sister, Chellamma, 82, who stays a few houses away and claims to be among the earliest inhabitants of the colony, concurs with her brother. She has reasons for the same.
“Once, my entire body was full of rashes. I don’t how they appeared. But after I prayed to Ayyappan and climbed down the hill, the rashes had all gone away. It’s all because of the Lord,” she says.
But Attathodu clearly has its differences in thinking and ideology, in stark contrast to the views shared by Ayyappan and scores of other tribal and forward-caste families. But that view, which comes from a Dalit family, comes at a heavy price.
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Speaking to indianexpress.com on the condition of anonymity, a 32-year-old woman said, “After you guys go, we still have to live here. We cannot be left isolated.”
Belonging to one of the few Dalit families in Attathodu, she believes the violent protests around the entry of women of procreating age are a ‘hue and cry over nothing.’ “It is also very much an upper-caste protest,” she said.
“Was the Dalit community taken into confidence when they announced these protests? Nobody asked us for our opinion. No one called us for these protests,” she said sternly.
“If you ask me, I’m all for women entering Sabarimala. Why shouldn’t they? Nothing will happen to Ayyappan. After all, we live in a law-abiding society? Everyone must respect the constitution,” she added.
However, that’s not a view she can express in public, out of fear of being isolated by the larger community. “When somebody asks us, we say we are neither for/against women’s entry. That way, we are safe.”
Her father, who used to work as a mason but has now hung up his boots due to old-age, likens the protests to the same around the 1930s when a similar agitation had ensued to allow entry of people of lower-castes to the Hindu temples in the kingdom of Travancore.
“After a lot of protests, the temple entry proclamation was issued. Dalits were also allowed into the temple. So as time passes, what are considered traditions must be overturned,” he said.
His daughter, who has by now finished hanging the clothes on a line outside their humble home, is quick to add. “You see, we are rationalists. They (people leading the protests against women’s entry) think they can inject all these ideologies and beliefs into our heads, but they can’t. We cannot be swayed like the others in the colony.”