Sabarimala reopens tomorrow: Devaswom Board to meet stakeholders today; protesters against entry of women converge at base camp

Tension is mounting at Sabarimala with devotee bodies, Hindu organisations and various political outfits gearing up for a show of strength against the Communist-led government’s move to implement the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all ages to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple when it opens for the five-day monthly pooja on 17 October.

Activists from more than 30 organisations will converge at Nilackkal, the base camp of Sabarimala hill shrine, and Pampa, the base of the hill from where the devotees trek to the temple, to resist the entry of the women between the ages of 10 and 50.

While most of the organisations will hold peaceful protests, the Shiv Sena and the Ayyappa Dharma Sena said they will prevent women of the menstruating age group from entering the hill shrine. The Sena will send a seven-member suicide squad to Sabarimala to resist those daring to enter the temple defying its customs and traditions.

Thiruvananthapuram-based Sena leader Peringamala Aji said the members of the squad will commit suicide if women who are barred from entering the temple as per its customs attempt to enter the temple. He said the party will also deploy hundreds of its activists at Nilackkal and Pampa to block women from the menstruating age group.

Protests against the Kerala government on the Sabarimala temple issue. PTI

Protests against the Kerala government on the Sabarimala temple issue. PTI

“We will not allow them to cross Pampa. They would be able to trek on the hill only by stepping over the dead bodies of our workers. Be it Trupti Desai or anyone else, our workers won't let anybody break customs,” the Sena leader said, adding that their protest was not against the Supreme Court verdict but the state government, which is trying to implement it without considering options to protect the customs and practices of the temple.

The Ayyappa Dharma Sena, which is headed by Rahul Easwar, grandson of late high priest Kandararu Maheswararu, who died in May this year, will form a human shield to prevent women of the menstruating age group from entering the temple.

“Our activists will keep vigil at four entry points by lying down. We will not physically block the women. If they try to cross the entry point, they will have to walk over our bodies. Ours will be a Gandhian protest,” Easwar said.

Apart from the Dharma Sena, a tribal group has also come forward to set up vigil at various entry points.

Mala Arayan, a community whose ancestors settled in the hills surrounding Sabarimala, will set up a vigil at 18 hills through which devotees enter the hill shrine. The community, which is considered as being a close aide of Lord Ayyappan, holds a few traditional rights in the rituals.

Members of another tribal community who live in the forest tracts at Sabarimala, Malampandaram, are already on an indefinite satyagraha. The leader of the tribe, Parasuram Thannickkal, said they will persuade the women not to enter the temple. He said that their protest will continue until an amicable solution to the issue is found.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which took out a march from Pandalam — believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ayyappa — to the state secretariat, will also take its protest to Sabarimala. The Mahila Morcha, the women’s wing of the party, will sit on a satyagraha at Nilackkal from 17 October.

The party will organise a ‘Viswasi Sangamam’ (believers convention) at Pathanamthitta on Tuesday. Party state president PS Sreedharan Pillai has given 24 hours’ time to the Left Front government to desist from its move to implement the apex court order. He said that the party will intensify its agitation if the government fails to take appropriate action.

“Thousands of people joined the march we organised. This shows that the genuine believers of Lord Ayyappa do not want change in the centuries-old customs and traditions of the temple. We will stand by the devotees,” the BJP chief said.

The party wants the government to either file a review petition in the Supreme Court or promulgate an ordinance to nullify the verdict. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has rejected both the pleas as they will be contrary to the stand it has taken in the court. The government had favoured entry to women in Sabarimala in the affidavit it filed in the court.

However, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which governs the temple, has launched an effort to arrive at a consensus on the issue. Board president A Padma Kumar has convened a meeting of all the stakeholders at Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.

Barring one organisation, the others have not responded to the invitation so far. The Tantri family and the Pandalam royal family, which is the custodian of the temple, have expressed apprehensions over the talks, as the TDB is toeing the government line. Both said that they will take a decision after consulting all concerned.

“The TDB has already made it clear that it will implement the Supreme Court verdict. If the proposed meeting is aimed at discussing how to implement the verdict, there is no point in attending it. We will consult the Tantris and take a decision," said Pandalam Palace Managing Committee president PG Sasikumar Varma.

The All India Ayyappa Seva Sangham, an organisation of the devotees, said it will attend the meeting but demand postponement of the implementation of the verdict. Sangham president Parameswaran Pillai said the organisation will ask the TDB to approach the court and seek more time to implement the verdict in view of the protests.

“This time period will help stakeholders to find a way out to protect the interests of the devotees and the customs and traditions of the temple,” he added.

Tantri Kandarau Rajeevaru has, meanwhile, expressed concern over the tense situation prevailing at Sabarimala. The intelligence department has alerted the authorities that the massive build-up at Sabarimala could turn into a law and order problem.

Curiously, the police have so far not revealed the measures it will take to face the situation. Pathanamthitta district superintendent of police T Narayanan does not rule out the chances of a showdown in view of the massive build-up of protesters.

He said that he is awaiting an action plan from the police headquarters. “Matters regarding the security at Sabarimala are decided by the top brass. They are watching the situation and will come out with a fool-proof security cover for the monthly pooja and the subsequent pilgrim season,” he added.

The police had earlier planned to post 500 women police at the entry points and the temple premises. However, they retracted from the move after protests. The TDB has also not made any special arrangements for women. It is planning to divide the facilities already available in the hill shrine for men and women.

Devotees, who go for the pooja, are keeping their fingers crossed, with the authorities dilly-dallying on the issue and the protesters hardening their stand. B Unnnikrishnan, a regular visitor to Sabarimala, said he was reposing his faith in Lord Ayyappa for the smooth conduct of the pilgrim season.

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Updated Date: Oct 16, 2018 08:41:55 IST

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