Sabarimala protests day 3: Two women abandon visit to shrine, third stopped at Pamba as cops plead helplessness

Two women on Friday stopped short of creating history by entering the Sabarimala shrine while they were just 200 metres away from the sanctum sanctorum, while a third was turned away from the Pamba base camp after the shrine's priests descended in an unprecedented protest and threatened to shutdown the temple gates.

Later in the day, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) announced that it will file an urgent affidavit in the Supreme Court about the present situation and their report will become part of the existing review petitions in the top court.

Meanwhile, prohibitory orders in Sabarimala were further extended till Monday.

In the three days that the Sabarimala temple has been open for the first time since the landmark Supreme Court order, no woman in the age group of 10-50 has made it to the shrine.

Twenty four-year-old Kavitha Jakkala, a Hyderabad-based news anchor and another woman, identified as Rehana Fathima from Ernakulam, created history by managing to reach within 200 metres of the shrine, the farthest any woman has ever managed to come. However, the women were forced to retrace their steps after the state police told them their visit can lead to a massive law and order problem.

 Sabarimala protests day 3: Two women abandon visit to shrine, third stopped at Pamba as cops plead helplessness

Police escort two women back from the shrine's entrance. Image Courtesy: Kaviyoor Santhosh

It was around 6.45 am when Jakkala and Fathima, accompanied by 100 policemen led by Inspector General of Police S Sreejith, started their two-hour climb. Twenty led them from the front while 80 officers backed them from behind as at least one of the women put on police gear. The initial phase of their journey remained uneventful as they started the trek early morning when not many protesters were around.

However, as they reached Nadapandhal, merely 200 metres away from the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine, around 250 devotees who were there to offer prayers formed a human barricade and laid down bare chest in the narrow pathway leading to the final 18 steps one needs to cross to get to the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine.

Besides that, in a never-before-seen move, around 30 employees attached to the temple tantri and the chief priest also went on protest as they stopped their rituals and sat down in front of the hallowed 18 steps and sang Ayyappa hymns after they heard that the two women were about to reach the shrine. Initially, IGP Sreejith tried to talk the protesters out of starting violence by saying that he too was an Lord Ayyappa believer but he was duty-bound to protect and escort the women.

He said that we don't want to do this by trampling upon you and promised the devotees an alternate solution. "Police will not create any issue in Sabarimala and we don't want a confrontation with you devotees. We are only following the law. I will be discussing with the higher authorities and brief them on the situation," he said.

However, soon Sreejith received a call. He told the protesters that the government has decided not to use force and asked them to relent.

"Now I have to talk to the two women, who also have their rights according to the Supreme Court directives and it too has to be protected. Please do not create any disturbances here, but you can continue to chant the hymns," said Sreejith.

After an hour, Sreejith told the media that he had a word with the temple tantri who categorically told him he would be forced to close down the temple if there was any violation of tradition and faith.

"So we told the two women about it and they also decided to abandon their trek and return, asking for protection till they reached home," Sreejith said, adding that would be provided. "So we are taking them back."

At 10.50 am, Kavita, the Hyderabad-based journalist and her four-member crew, along with another woman devotee Rehna Fathima from Kochi, began their descend towards Pamba foothills of the temple.

Meanwhile, a third woman Mary Sweety was turned back from Pamba after she declared she was there to visit the shrine.

"I go to church, mosques and temples. And I want to see Lord Ayyappa," Sweety told reporters as protesters surrounded her. Reportedly, the police personnel trying to dissuade her from taking the journey told her that the police cannot guarantee her security at the moment and she must not venture up to the hill under current circumstances.

'Devotee vs fake devotee'

Meanwhile, Kerala Minister of Devasom board, Kadakampally Surendran stirred a controversy as he suggested that some women were using the shrine to shocwcase their activism, and were not true devotees. He told the media here that they have come to know that the two women were actually activists.

"After coming to know that, it becomes our duty to protect the rights of the devotees and not that of activists."

"Our request to women activists is not to ply their trade in hallowed places. Sabarimala can never be made a war zone. Police should have been more careful while taking the two women up to the temple. Their backgrounds should have been checked. Sabarimala is not a place for activists to show their strength. Government will only support genuine devotees," he said.

A similar line of argument was adopted by BJP and Congress to target the government. "Sabarimala is not a tourist spot, only devotees go there. Right now, what Kerala police is doing is wrong. Had there been our government we would've handled the situation better. We would've talked to devotees, there would've been no violence," Congress leader Ramesh Chenithalla said.

Meanwhile, the BJP questioned whether Christian and Muslim activists were forcing their way to the temple merely to hurt Hindu sentiments, when theses women did not even believe in Lord Ayyappa.

"This is a war against belief by atheists. Activists were given police uniform and protection gear to climb Sabarimala. Government is creating a storm in the state," BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai said.

"Sabarimala is a place of worship for believers, not for non-believers or social activists going there to destroy other's faith for decades. Shocked to hear other religious fundamentalists are trying to enter in the guise of activism or secularism. Hurting Hindus is condemnable," Tamilisai Soundarrajan, another BJP leader tweeted.

BJP leader K Surendran lashed out at the state government and Sreejith for violating the Kerala Police Act Rule 43.

"According to the rules, none other than a police official can use their dress or their equipment. We wish to know how come Sreejith allowed the two women to use police uniform and helmet."

"This destroys the sanctity of the Sabarimala temple. We warn the Kerala government not to try tricks to forcefully impose the apex court verdict," said Surendran.

Activist's home attacked

Rehana Fathima's house in Kochi was meanwhile damaged by angry devotees. "We have just come here after hearing about the damage caused to her home. We do not know if there were other residents around," said a police official.

Fathima works with the BSNL in Kochi and lives with her partner. Both had started out for the temple.

"There are no separate rule of law for activists, or others. There is only one law. She is not an activist and she has the right to go and pray as per the apex court directive," said Fathima's partner, who is a news producer.

Fathima said that she was forced to take the decision because her life was under threat. "I don't know what happened to my children. My life is also in danger. But they (police) have said that they will provide protection. That is why I am going back," Fathima said.

Reacting to a Kerala minister's comment that the Sabarimala shrine was no place for showing activism, Fathima asked him how anyone can decide whether or not she was an activist.

"Who are you to decide what constitutes a believer, and who is a true believer? The police have failed me, and the government has failed me. I was told that there will be a law and order problem if we go up. Hence, I was forced to return because I didn't want to precipitate a law and order problem," she said.

BSNL has issued a statement saying it was not connected with Rehana Fathima's action, who is a staff of their Ernakulam Business Area.

"Outside BSNL premises, Rehana Fathima alone shall be fully responsible for her action in her own personal capacity outside the normal business hours."

"This is in no way related to the written assigned official responsibilities, as per BSNL conduct and service rules and regulations," the statement said.

When the police along with the two women were on their ascend, the temple tantri family and members of the Pandalam royal family went into a huddle. They were considering closing down of the temple if any other woman tries to enter the temple.

Kerala governor P Sathasivam summoned police chief Lokanath Behra to his office and spoke to him about the overall situation. Devasom Minister Surendran spoke to state CPM Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

The temple opened its doors on Wednesday for the first time since the 28 September Supreme Court verdict that allowed women from the 10-50 age group to enter the famed shrine. On Thursday, there was a dawn-to-dusk shutdown across Kerala called by outfits owing loyalty to Hindu groups and the BJP.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Oct 19, 2018 18:51:03 IST