The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which is the organisation that administers the iconic Sabarimala temple in Kerala, seems to not be able to decide whether or not it wants to comply with the Supreme Court's 28 September order which decrees that women of all ages be allowed access to the temple.
Historically, women between the ages of 10 to 50 (the typical duration of time when a woman menstruates) were not allowed to enter the temple of the deity Lord Ayyappa, who has been considered 'celibate'.
Following the apex court's verdict on 28 September, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government, the board, and several right-wing activists said that they would not file review petitions against the order. "We decided not to go in for an appeal against the verdict. We will do our best to make all arrangements to ensure smooth pilgrimage for all this season," TDB President A Padmakumar had said after the verdict.
However, Kerala has seen a spate of protests from various groups in just over 10 days since the verdict.
On Monday, the Kerala High Court directed the TDB to inform it about the provisions made to make the temple accessible for women. The direction came as a follow-up after the Sabarimala special commissioner M Manoj pointed out that there were delays in the work being carried out for the Mandala-Makaravilakku festival and for putting in place the special provisions for women. The board was supposed to provide facilities in Sabarimala, Pampa, Nilakkal and Erumeli areas.
TDB standing counsel S Rajmohan had submitted to the court on Monday that a general meeting of the board, to be held on Wednesday, will discuss the issue and inform the details. The next court hearing is expected to be on 8 October.
According to reports, the Kerala High Court had also asked the government to appoint a woman inspector general (IG) in the core committee which will be in charge of crowd management at the temple.
The TDB, on Wednesday, made a U-turn on its decision to provide special facilities for women within a few hours, according to reports. Earlier on Wednesday, The New Indian Express had reported that the board submitted a report to the high court detailing its arrangement to welcome women devotees to the temple. However later that day, the board backtracked on its announcement and said that no one facilities would be put in place before the temple reopened mid-October.
Ahead of the reopening of the temple, the board had said that 100 new toilets would be constructed for women, which would be painted pink for easy identification. The TDB had also said that there would be designated places for women devotees to get dressed and also for placing 'viri' at Pampa and Sannidhanam.
According to reports, there were already 400 toilets in Nikakkal. In a meeting, the board decided to provide 500 more toilets at Nilakkal, out of which 100 would be exclsively for women
The TNIE report said that, "According to the Board, 100 new toilets will be provided at Pampa also and separate facilities for changing dress for women pilgrims at Pampa. 25 bio-toilets will be provided for the use of women pilgrims at Marakkoottam, 25 bio-toilets near KSRTC stand at Pampa and 25 at the hilltop also."
The Kerala Police was also gearing up to tighten security at the temple, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behera had said on 5 October. He had said that they were planning to depute 500 women police personnel at the temple.
However, in a complete volte-face a few hours later on Wednesday, the TDB said that there would be no extra facilities for women at the temple. The Hindu quoted TDB president Padmakumar as saying, "Who has decided to send women constables to Sannidhanam? Whatever facility was there in the past, that is, whatever was there during the tenure of my predecessor Prayar Gopalakrishnan or during the time of his predecessors, wouldn’t those facilities suffice now," after another meeting of the board.
Padmakumar also said that women had been reaching Sabarimala and offering prayers with the existing facilities. Reportedly, the decision to withdraw special provisions came because the TDB was not in agreement with the Supreme Court order.
Padmakumar added that the board would submit a situation report to the Kerala high court and proceed according to the directive given.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Oct 12, 2018 16:00 PM