Sabarimala protests: Dalit woman puts off plan to visit Ayyappa temple as heavy rains, agitations mar trek to shrine
A Dalit woman activist, who was planning to visit the Sabarimala shrine Saturday has put her plans on hold and left Pamba following heavy rain, as high drama was witnessed when another woman was stopped from entering the temple by devotees who thought she was under 50.
Pamba: A Dalit woman activist, who was planning to visit the Sabarimala shrine Saturday has put her plans on hold and left Pamba following heavy rain, as high drama was witnessed when another woman was stopped from entering the temple by devotees who thought she was under 50.
Saturday was the fourth day since the temple gates were opened for the monthly puja after the Supreme Court in September lifted a centuries-old ban on women between 10 and 50 years entering the Lord Ayyappa shrine. Top police officers camping at downhill Pamba, about five kilometres from the temple complex, held discussions with Manju, leader of Dalit Mahila Federation, during which she reportedly insisted that she wanted to visit the shrine as a devotee of Lord Ayyappa.
Police told her that it was not possible to climb the hill Saturday evening due to heavy rains in the area, police sources said. She has been convinced about the slippery state of the roads leading to the temple and difficulties in climbing the hill and providing security cover in the rains, they said. Manju left Pamba in the evening, saying she was a devotee and would come here to climb the hill "on a convenient date." She said police had offered all sorts of assistance to her to visit the shrine.
Police had earlier said it was verifying the background of the woman, said to be in her late 30s, and a decision regarding her trekking would be taken Sunday morning. Manju, said to be in her late 30s, was making an attempt to reach the shrine, a day after the temple complex witnessed high drama and tense moments when two women reached the hilltop with police escort, but had to return before reaching the sanctum sanctorum following protests by devotees. If she had reached the shrine, she would have been the first woman from the menstruating age group to visit the temple after the apex court verdict in September.
Earlier, devotees gathered in large numbers at 'Valiya Nadapandhal' the queue complex located a few metres away from the holy 'pathinettampadi' (the 18 sacred steps), leading to the sanctum sanctorum to protest a woman's entry into the temple. However, the tension was defused after the woman, who had come with members of her family, convinced the protesters that she was above 50 years, and proceeded to the shrine. The woman carrying 'irumudikkettu' (holy bundle) climbed the 18 holy steps amid security cover to reach the temple and have 'darshan'.
Pathanamthitta District Collector PB Nooh said there was no tension at 'Sannidhanam.' "A woman came for darshan. Some news channels followed her. Then a crowd gathered. That was the only issue," he said. The collector also dismissed as "rumours" reports that some young women were planning to trek the hills to reach the shrine.
Some BJP workers were arrested at Nilackal for violating section 144 of CrPC (prohibiting an assembly of more than four persons in an area) that has been clamped in the area in view of the protests by devotees against the entry of women of all age groups into the ancient Sabarimala temple.
Meanwhile, a member of the Travancore Devaswom Board, that manages the shrine, flayed the statement issued by the Sabarimala temple tantri (chief priest) that the shrine would be shut down in case its traditional customs are broken. KP Sankaradas alleged that chief priest Kandararu Rajeevaru's statement was in contempt of court since the doors of the Sabarimala temple were thrown open to women in all age groups by the Supreme Court. The tantri's comments also came under fire from Kerala Minister G Sudhakaran. The minister likened the tantri's statement to the act of downing the shutters of shops during hartal. However, head priest of the Malikappuram temple at Sannidhanam, Anish Namboothiri, defended Rajeevaru's statement, saying the tantri is the highest authority on matters related to the temple's customs and if it was violated, he has the power to take such actions.
The Sabarimala temple complex had witnessed high drama and tense moments Friday when two women reached the hilltop with heavy police escort, but had to return before reaching the sanctum sanctorum following massive protests by Lord Ayyappa devotees. Madhavi, a devotee from Andhra Pradesh, and a New Delhi-based woman journalist were also forced to return following intense protests by devotees on 17 and 18 October respectively.
Kerala has been witnessing massive protests by Lord Ayyappa devotees opposing the entry of girls and women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala temple since the government decided to implement the apex court order. The devotees had intensified the agitation at the shrine complex and nearby areas including the base camps, Nilackal and Pamba, since the shrine was opened for the five-day monthly puja on 17 October.
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