Sabarimala standoff: Kerala Police, group of women devotees face ire of protesters at Pamba; forced to return to Nilakkal

The Sabarimala foothills witnessed protests amid a heavy police presence as hundreds of devotees blocked paths and chased away a group of 11 women of menstruating age being escorted to the hill shrine by the Kerala Police. Though the police team tried to arrest and remove the protesters who had blocked the traditional forest path and take the women members of Chennai-based outfit 'Maniti' to the Lord Ayyappa temple, hundreds of pilgrims rushed down to the valley to chase them away.

The female devotees could barely move 100 metres towards the temple, which is about five kilometres away from the Pamba base camp, even though security had been heightened keeping in view the women devotees' plan to trek to the temple.

The women and the police had to virtually run from the scene to the safety of a nearby guardroom, abandoning the trekking plan, after being booed by protesters. Defying prohibitory orders, hundreds of devotees thronged the forest path blocking the way of the women, who reached in the early hours from Chennai. Police tried to remove the protesters by force as they were not ready to budge despite their repeated announcements to disperse and end the namajapa (chanting sacred hymns) protest. Repeated talks by the police with the women who were sitting on the road for over six hours, also failed as they insisted on climbing the hill and have darshan at the shrine.

Selvi, one of the women devotees who had come from Chennai to visit the Sabarimala temple. ANI

Selvi, one of the women devotees who had come from Chennai to visit the Sabarimala temple. ANI

As the Pandalam royal family, attached to the Ayyappa temple, and the Opposition BJP accused the government of taking the "activist women" with police protection, Devaswom minister, Kadakampally Surendran said they would act according to directives of the high court-appointed monitoring panel.  "We hope that that the high court appointed three-member panel will look into the matter and take a suitable decision in this regard. The government will act according to that,” Kadakampally Surendran told reporters.

However, BJP leader K Surendran alleged that the arrival of women was "well-planned" and the CPM led LDF government was behind the move. The BJP and other right-wing activists staged namajapa protests across the state including before the Cliff House, the official residence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in Thiruvananthapuram.

'Maniti' coordinator Selvi said in Pamba that more members of the outfit were on their way to Sabarimala and the 11 women were only the first batch. Selvi said women also have the right to pray at the temple and that they would not return without darshan.  "Police is asking us to go back in view of protests. But, we won't go back without darshan. We will wait here till we are allowed to climb the hills,” she told reporters. However, later Selvi accused the mob of attacking her and the rest of the women and told the media that fearing mob fury, the police transferred them to the Nilakkal police station.

"The police should back off if they can't take us to the shrine," said Selvi. Alleging that the protesters are right-wing groups and not genuine devotees, Selvi said, "They are RSS members. Look at the devotees; they quietly go to the shrine. We are Lord Ayyappa's sisters, let us in and don't block us. ...The Kerala chief minister had given a fitting reply that the temple is not a petty shop owned by the chief priest," Selvi told NDTV. Selvi told the media that the group comprised women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka besides Kerala. She also said that they had already written to the office of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and informed him about their plan to trek to the hill temple.

Meanwhile, a Kerala-based Dalit activist, Ammini also announced her decision to trek Sabarimala on Sunday. She said in Kottayam that if the protesters blocked her, she would stage an indefinite hunger strike at Pamba, on the foothills of Sabarimala. The 'Maniti' group reached Pamba by 3.30 am through the Idukki-Kambamedu route in Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Local television channels said they had to face protests at various places on their way but police removed the protesters and helped them to reach up to Pamba. Of the 11 women, six carried the traditional irumudikettu which is mandatory to climb the 'pathinettam padi' (holy steps leading to sanctum sanctorum). However, all six of them were brought back to Nilakkal amid rising protests.

Thilakavathi, another member in the group, said they would continue the protest till they could offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa. "Priests of the local temple at Pamba did not cooperate with us and declined to get our 'irumudikettu' (sacred offering to the God) ready as per custom. So we did it on our own," she said.

However, Kalimuthu, a protester, denied the allegations of women devotees saying that, "Women should respect the traditions. The court should not have interfered in this. Let's see what the top court will say when it hears the review petition in January."

Women, in the age group of 10-50 years, are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. But the Supreme Court, through its 28 September landmark verdict, has lifted the curb and permitted women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple. Anxiety had loomed large in and around Sabarimala temple for some days as Maniti had declared last week that a group of 50 women, all below the traditionally barred age of 50 years, would visit the shrine. Selvi had told a Malayalam TV channel that the group comprised women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka, besides Kerala.

Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala temple since the Kerala government decided to implement the 28 September verdict of the Supreme Court permitting women of all age groups to go and worship inside the temple. Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful attempts to trek the holy hills. Four transgenders, who were earlier stopped from proceeding towards the Lord Ayyappa temple citing security reasons, offered prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security on 18 December.

The Kerala High Court had in November month appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season. Both the BJP and the Congress are on the same page on the issue, while the Pinarayi Vijayan government has said that it is committed to enforce the Supreme Court order.

 

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Updated Date: Dec 23, 2018 17:38:03 IST

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