Sabarimala: 52-yr-old woman enters after scuffle with protesters over age despite showing ID proof; media attacked at base camp
Lalitha and a group of two other women (all aged 50 years or above) entered the temple premises and prayed.
As the doors to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala opened on Monday for the second time in three weeks for a two-day special puja, there was unprecedented security over apprehension of protests. Though no girl or woman in the age group of 10-50 years entered the Lord Ayyappa shrine, according to the Kerala Police, a 30-year-old woman had reached the base camp at Pamba along with her husband and two kids on Monday evening.
However, the woman, Anju who is a native of Cherthala in the Alappuzha district, told police that she was not keen to visit the shrine and admitted that she had come to Pamba after being pressurised from her husband, Abilash. Police claimed it was her husband, who was adamant that the family, including their children aged 7 and 4 years, undertake the pilgrimage. However, according to reports, a local official claimed that the woman had sought police protection while the Superintendent of Police Rahul R Nair said the woman had not sought police escort.
But as Anju's husband continued to stick to his stand, police decided to ask their relatives to come to Pamba to take a final decision. Thereafter, Anju and her family waited at the police control room as the temple closed its doors at 10 pm and finally returned at 3 am on Tuesday morning, sources said.
Six women from Andhra Pradesh who came to Pamba to go to the temple on Tuesday morning also returned without going to the shrine. The women, who were part of a 32-member group, decided to drop their plan to go to the temple after the police and devotees informed them about the tense situation prevailing at the hill shrine. While the male members of the group proceeded to the temple, the women returned to Nilakkal and camped there till those who went to the temple returned.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday morning scuffle broke out between the media and police as media persons were not allowed to leave for the shrine from Pamba. There were also reports of a journalist being injured in a scuffle outside the Sannidhanam police station.
— ANI (@ANI) November 6, 2018
Later, a 52-year-old woman was shown surrounded by protesters at Sannidhanam after they suspected that she was not correctly stating her age. Lalitha, who hails from Thrissur, told reporters that she had come for her grandchild's 'choroonu' (first rice-feeding ceremony) at the Pamba Ganapathy Temple and that the police had checked her ID card and cleared her entry, The Indian Express reported. But as she reached the top (near the 18 holy steps), Lalitha was injured in a scuffle with protestors with her husband claiming that she was also manhandled, according to sources.
She was then taken to the Sannidhanam hospital for first-aid and as protesters found out that her age was cleared, devotees themselves provided security for her to visit the temple. Lalitha and a group of two other women (all aged 50 years or above) entered the temple premises and prayed. Lalitha was, however, not allowed to climb the 18 holy steps as she was not carrying an 'irumudi' on her head which as per tradition is prerequisite for climbing the 18 holy steps. She was allowed entry through the adjoining gate, said sources.
However, later on Tuesday, eight women above the age of 50 years were returned from Sannidhanam by the devotees as they did not carry the irumudi kettu. The women from Andhra Pradesh had shown certificates proving their age but the devotees did not allow them to enter the temple saying women without irumudi kettu could provoke the devotees.
Meanwhile, another woman from Chennai above the age of 50 years had entered the temple on Monday along with several other women who didn't fall in the mensurating age bracket.
Sabarimala virtually turned into a fortress with hundreds of police personnel, including armed commandos, dotting the place where surveillance cameras and mobile phone jammers were installed. Thousands of pilgrims entered the temple as temple thantri (head priest) Kandararu Rajeevaru and melshanti (chief priest) Unnikrishnan Namboothiri jointly opened the portals of the sanctum sanctorum around 5 pm. No special puja was performed on Monday as the "Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal" puja will take place on Monday to mark the birth anniversary of the last king of the princely state of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma.
Several BJP leaders and Ayyappa Dharama Sena president Rahul Easwar reached 'Sannidhanam', the temple complex, on Monday evening. Security at Sabarimala and nearby places was stepped up following violent protests by fringe Hindu groups and mainstream political parties like the Congress and the BJP against the Kerala government's decision to enforce the Supreme Court order lifting the ban on girls and women of menstruating age from entering the temple. Frequent checking and frisking by police did not go down well with devotees and right-wing activists who protested at several places. TV channels showed heated exchanges between devotees and policemen over frisking. Devotees complained of lack of amenities at the base camps that were damaged in the unprecedented floods in August.
Even journalists were not allowed to leave the Nilackal base camp for Pamba on way to the temple in the morning but the restriction was lifted later on Monday. Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court said on Monday pilgrims should not be harassment under the guise of implementing the Supreme Court judgment. "You can't cause hardships to pilgrims," the court said while hearing a petition seeking its direction to the government not to interfere with the day-to-day affairs of the shrine.
Police and civil administration were on a high alert and prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC were in force around the temple. Around 2,300 personnel, including a 20-member commando team and 100 women, were also deployed in Sabarimala and adjoining areas.
According to PTI, police has prepared a dossier of Hindu right-wing activists who are likely to visit the shrine to take part in the agitation against Kerala's Left Front government's decision not to file a review petition against the apex court order.
At least 15 women police personnel aged 50 years or more were deployed at the 'Sannidhanam', officials said. When asked about why only women personnel over 50 years of age were deployed inside the temple, Inspector General of Police MR Ajith Kumar said women staff of "eligible" age from various departments have been deployed at the shrine for quite some time. He also rejected allegations that devotees had to face hardships due to the restrictions imposed by police. "Here, devotees can come and have darshan. There are no restrictions. Police has arranged adequate security for all devotees," Kumar said.
The doors of Sabarimala had opened for six days on 17 October for the first time since the Supreme Court allowed women of menstruating age to enter the shrine but none could make it to its hallowed precincts amid a welter of protests and violent clashes. Valiant attempts by around a dozen women, including activists and journalists in the 10-50 years age group, to script history came to nought as frenzied devotees of Lord Ayyappa heckled and hassled them and forced them to retreat. Both the Congress, the main opposition party in Kerala, and the BJP, which is desperately seeking to expand its footprint in the state, have lent support to the agitation against the Supreme Court verdict.
With inputs from PTI
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