Sabarimala row: Devaswom Board's decision to move SC may ease tension looming over the pilgrimage season

The decision of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to move the Supreme Court for more time to implement its 28 September verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala may ease the tension looming large over the two-month-long pilgrimage season that began on Friday amid strong protests.

The Board took the decision following a tacit nod given by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the wake of an all-party-meeting and the talks with the thantri and Pandalam royal families in the state capital on Thursday. TDB president A Padma Kumar said that the decision was taken based on the suggestions made at the meetings.

He said that the legal experts the board consulted had opined that the plea could be accepted by the apex court as the board did not get enough time to reconstruct the assets damaged by the August flood and to provide additional facilities for women to visit the temple and perform the darshan safely.

The TDB president said that the petition to be filed on 17 or 19 November would also point out the restrictions imposed by the Central Empowered Committee on new constructions in the hill top and the refusal by the forest department to concede land to provide more facilities to the pilgrims.

Sabarimala row: Devaswom Boards decision to move SC may ease tension looming over the pilgrimage season

Devotees enter the Sabarimala temple as it opens amid tight security. PTI

The move by the TDB has been welcomed by the temple thantri and the Pandalam royal family, the former custodian of the temple. The Congress and the BJP had made this suggestion at the all-party meeting. However, the chief minister had refused to heed the suggestion and mooted separate dates for women from the restricted age group to visit the temple.

However, he relented when the thantri and Pandalam family representatives remained firm on their stance. The thantri had threatened to close the temple during the monthly puja when the police tried to take a couple of women below the age of 50 to the temple.

The chief minister backed out of his adamant stand of implementing the court verdict in order to placate the protesters, who foiled the bid by about 20 women in the age group of 10 to 50 from entering the temple during the puja in October and November.

The TDB was initially reluctant to exercise the option of approaching the Supreme Court for more time. However, it took the decision following the huge devotees' protests led by Bharatiya Janata Party and Sangh Parivar mounted against the attempt by Bhumatha Brigade chief Trupti Desai to visit the temple.

The protesters swung into action even before the Maharashtra-based women activists arrived at the Kochi airport from Pune at 4.30 am. They swooped on the arrival terminal of the airport and prevented her from coming out of the airport.

As the news spread, more protesters, including large number of women, joined the protest and laid siege to the airport, derailing its functioning and causing hardships to the passengers. As the protesters refused to allow the 33-year-old woman to come out of the airport, the government which had promised to provide protection to young women to enter the temple directed the police to persuade her to drop her plan.

She relented only after 13 hours. Trupti agreed to return, saying that she will come back to Kerala before the end of the Mandala Makaravilakku festival that will go on till 20 January. Before leaving, Trupti said she was not returning because of the protests but due to the law and order problem it would create.

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar, which have been spearheading the agitation against the entry of the women at Sabarimala, are not ready to drop the vigil they have mounted around the hill shrine. Kerala BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai said that the party will continue its agitations till the government refrained from implementing the verdict.

He said that the party would also launch an agitation against the failure by the government and the TDB to provide basic facilities to the pilgrims. The infrastructure facilities available for pilgrims to perform the daily chores, rest and even take bath before the darshan, were destroyed by the flood. Though the TDB had promised to re-build the damaged assets before the commencement of the season, it has failed to restore even 50 percent of the facilities.

The party has also come down heavily on the government for handing over the control of the temple to the police. The BJP chief said that Sabarimala was under police raj.

The season began under a tight security blanket. The cops had taken control of the entire area and the roads leading to the hill shrine from Thursday itself after district administration brought the Sannidhanam and three other base camps under prohibitory orders under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Ccde (CrPC).

All roads to the hill shrine have been declared security zones from Thursday onwards till 20 January, when the temple closes after the pilgrimage. The entire area has been divided into six regions and 15,259 police officials have been deployed for security.  In all, 55 SPs, 113 DySPs, 359 circle-inspectors and 1,450 sub-inspectors will oversee the security situation in the region.

As many as 920 women police personnel, including 860 civil police officers and 60 officers in the rank of circle inspectors and sub-inspectors have been lined up to provide protection to women devotees. Apart from this, a 20-member commando team, a 234-member bomb squad and two companies of National Disaster Response Force have been stationed at Sannidhanam and Nilakkal.

The police have also imposed restrictions on the devotees, who will not be allowed to stay back after the darshan, particularly during night. This is to avoid gathering of protesters in the disguise of devotees at the hill top. A large number of RSS personnel had entered the hill shrine during the monthly puja in October and special puja on 6 November and prevented even women outside the restricted age group from going to the temple.

The devotees have been protesting against the restrictions. Following the protests, Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran intervened and forced the police to relax some of the conditions, especially the direction to close the shops and puja material counters at 10 pm.

The TDB president said that the shops and counters will remain open 24 hours. He said that the board would also ask the government to relax the condition over limiting the stay of the devotees till 10 pm. This will prevent the devotees from taking part in the Neyyabhishekham, which is usually held at 5.30 am every day.

“We respect the devotees’ right to do darshan and perform the rituals as per their faith and tradition. We will not allow anybody to restrict this right. I am confident that all the devotees coming to Sabarimala will be able to undertake the pilgrimage as usual,” he added.

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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2018 20:32:43 IST

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