Sabarimala opens today: Stage set for orthodox versus heterodox clash as protesters descend to stop women of certain age group

With the talks between the Travancore Dewaswom Board (TDB) which manages the Sabarimala temple and the thantri (supreme priest) and the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam failing to reach a consensus on implementing the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all ages to enter the shrine, concern is being raised in several quarters about the smooth conduct of monthly pooja beginning on Wednesday.

Even before the talks began at Thiruvananthapuram, devotees protesting against the implementation of the apex court order by the state government started stopping vehicles and preventing women from going to the hill shrine and one even attempting suicide ahead of the opening of the temple on Wednesday.

 Sabarimala opens today: Stage set for orthodox versus heterodox clash as protesters descend to stop women of certain age group

File image of Lord Ayyappa devotees protesting against SC Verdict on Sabarimala. News18

The protestors were local women, who have been staging a satyagraha at Nilakkal, the main gateway to Sabarimala, for the last one week under the banner of Sabarimala Temple Achara Samrakshana Samithi (Sabarimala Temple Custom Protection Committee.

Clad in traditional sarees, the women, stopped all vehicles, including the state-run Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses at the base camp located about 20-kilometre away from Sabarimala hilltop and asked young women to get down even as the leaders of the organisation kept on assuring that they will not stop any women from going to Sabarimala.

The women, who tried to cross the base camp, were three journalism students from Kottayam and two reporters of national television channels. None of them had any intention to visit the temple. Sruthi Mathur, a reporter of India Ahead from Hyderabad, had come to Nilackal to cover the protests.

“My car was stopped by a group of women before I reached the venue of the protests and asked me not to go Sabarimala. Though I told them I had come to Nilackal and had no plan to go to Sabarimala, the women were not convinced. They forced me to get out of the car and kept a watch on me,” Sruthi said.

Sujatha, an elderly woman who led the action, said no women belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer worship at the shrine. She said that they stopped only those women who were not listening to their request not to defy the centuries-old custom in the temple.

“We have been living around Sabarimala for generations. None of us has ever tried to violate the custom. The women coming from outside do not know how important is the custom and practices being followed at Sabarimala for centuries. We will not allow others who from outside to do so,” she said.

Curiously, the policemen present at the venue did not try to intervene when the devotees mobbed the vehicles and forced the women to go back despite the government’s assertion that it will provide full protection to the women going to Sabarimala. There were only a handful of policemen present at Nilackal in the morning.

More forces, including two companies of women police, were deployed at Nilackal and other entry points after news about the resistance spread. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has warned of stern action against those who prevent the women devotees.

"Stern action will be taken against anyone who prevents the devotees from going to Sabarimala. None will be allowed to take the law into their hands. The government is committed to implementing the apex court order. We have no intention to file a review petition. The women who like to go to the temple will be given protection by the government,” he told reporters at Thiruvananthapuram.

Following the chief minister’s warning, the Pathanathitta superintendent of police T Narayanan and Additional Director General of Police Anil Kanth rushed to Nilackal and took stock of the situation. The ADGP said more forces will be deployed at avert troubles at Sabarimala.

The protests are likely to be more aggressive following the failure of the talks between the TDB and the stakeholders. The talks called by TDB president A Padma Kumar failed as the temple authority refused to heed the plea of the tantric and the Pandalam royal family to file a review petition and seek more time to implement the Supreme Court order immediately.

Though the TDB president agreed to place the demand at the next board meeting on 19 November, the tantric and the Pandalam royal family representative boycotted the meeting. The stakeholders rejected the offer as the TDB has been toeing the government line. Though the board president had initially maintained that they will file a review petition, he changed the stance following a meeting with the chief minister.

The thantri family is reportedly considering boycotting the temple. Sources close to the family said that the thantri may not go to the temple when the temple opens the pooja. Usually, thantri is the first person to visit the sanctum sanctorum when its doors are opened for both monthly pooja and the pilgrim season starting from November.

The Pandalam royal family led a motor cycle rally from Pandalam to Sabarimala on Tuesday in protest against the implementation of the court order by the government. The family representatives have threatened to intensify their agitation following the failure of the talks.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which gave the government 24 hours’ time to find a way out to protect the interest of the devotees, said the party will also intensify their agitation. “The government would be responsible for any law and order problem at Sabarimala on the issue,” said Kerala BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai.

The Congress, which was shying away from direct agitation, will also be hitting the streets against the implementation of the court order. The Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) will kick off their agitation with a day-long fast at Nilackal on Wednesday.

Activists of a host of organisations will be descending on Sabarimala when the temple opens on Wednesday with various types of protests. While the Shiva Sena said their members will commit suicide if any women between the age of 10 and 50 went to Sabarimala, the Ayyappa Dharma Sena, a major body of Ayyappa devotees will be erecting vigil at four entry points against women trying to enter the temple.

Though the leaders of most organisations said they will not prevent the women from trekking to the temple, devotees are apprehensive in the light of the attempts made by the activists of the Sabarimala Temple Achara Samrakshana Samithi to prevent the women.

The devotees in many places have also started intimidating women who have announced their decision to go to Sabarimala or support those going to the temple. The scooter of an activist in Malappuram, who offered her support to the women going to Sabarimala in the social media, was damaged while a 32-year-old woman who announced her decision to go to Sabarimala was threatened by the devotees.

Women activists see this as part of a deliberate attempt to create conflict at Sabarimala.

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Updated Date: Oct 17, 2018 08:20:33 IST