One of the women who made it to Nada Pandal, Sabarimala on Friday, was Kavitha J, a news anchor with Mojo TV, based in Telangana.
Speaking to Firstpost before leaving Kochi Airport, after a tiring journey, Kavitha said, “I am happy that I could at least reach till the Nada Pandal. I will come back again and visit the temple when I get a chance to do that.”
Unflinched by threats, attacks and abuses which she and her team encountered over the last two days, Kavitha said that she decided to return only because children were involved in a tense law and order situation, amidst the ‘so-called protectors of custom’, the police and the devotees.
Having their first meal in two days, as they waited to board a flight from Kochi Airport, the team from Mojo TV, reporter Balakrishna, camera persons Narasing and Moinuddin, and Kavitha, seemed a relieved lot now, after facing it all. However, on reaching Hyderabad, they are to face yet another group of RSS-BJP protesters at the airport, who are said to be 'waiting' for them. Telangana Police has been informed and is said to provide protection to the team.
Kavitha recounted her entire experience over the last three days.
They reached Thiruvananthapuram early on Wednesday. "After a tiring journey from Thiruvananthapuram to Nilakkal, we were shocked at the situation there. We were literally helpless as the police were busy attending to the critical law and order situation at Nilakkal base camp."
With no accommodation available in Nilakkal, they were forced to return to Erumely to find a place to stay.
On Thursday morning, while seeking help from the police, they were initially told to take the bus from Nilakkal to Pamba. After Kavitha insisted and pointed towards the incidents in which other reporters were attacked, both men and women, the local police agreed to drop them off at a point approximately 17 km away, which seemed to be in a dense forest area. "They (the local police) said their limit ends there and dropped us, and claimed the police personnel from the next jurisdiction would come in an hour to pick us from there. This did not happen at all," Kavitha said.
After waiting for about four hours at that point, on Thursday afternoon, they came across a media vehicle from Karnataka.
“The Kannada media crew helped us reach a point where we could hire a vehicle to Pamba. While doing a live for our channel on reaching Pamba, I was shouted at and told 'why are you here? Leave the place or we will kill you. You can't break our customs..' and so on,” she said. Later, after reaching the Pamba base camp and seeking police protection at an aid post around 7 pm, the Inspector General said it would not be safe to trek uphill at night, and assured that the police would offer protection early in the morning, “As told by him, I waited there till morning on Friday,” Kavitha said.
Early Friday morning, Kavitha and her team, escorted by 100 police personnel, started the uphill trek.
“Rahana Fathima, the other woman, joined us only at Pamba. I had not met her the previous night when I sought protection in the police aid post," Kavitha said.
The IG had informed in advance about the situation, and they were asked whether they would like to proceed despite the situation, to which Kavitha replied, “I am a believer and I wanted to go and pray, for which I am rightful. I also wanted to do my duty of reporting how the State implemented the SC verdict.”
During the trek, after about two kilometres, the team was attacked. “Stones were pelted at us and I sustained a mild injury. I was not severely injured, because I wore the police helmet. The cops provided full cover up till we reached Nada Pandal, just a few hundred metres away from the Sannidhanam,” she said.
Kavitha added, “Here, the protesters, who were sloganeering and shouting in the name of Lord Ayyappa, were sitting with small children in front of them, perhaps to create a tense situation. They knew that the police would not use force when small children were involved.”
After speaking to his superiors and ministers, the IG explained the entire scenario. “He did not force me to climb down. He only asked me to decide and he was ready to protect me if I still wanted to go further,” Kavitha said.
It was left to Kavitha to decide whether to stop and return, considering that the children might get injured in a clash. The police would have to act against the protesters to uphold the implementation of the apex court verdict. “I was not scared of the protesters and I did, from my heart, want to make it till Sannidhanam and pray before Lord Ayyappa. It was a do-or-die situation, with roughly 200 policemen and about 1,000 protesters. It was at this point that I decided to return, considering the kids who might be injured in a possible clash,” said Kavitha.
While climbing down, she and her team were shouted at and verbally abused. The police offered complete protection and took them to the airport. “Protesters had tried to block the vehicles we traveled in at three points. They were sloganeering, shouting and attempting to attack us and damage our vehicles. But the police did not stop considering our safety. So much so, that they did not even stop to buy food.”
She stated that there were five police vehicles and multiple policemen, along with four commandos, to ensure their safety. At the airport as well, a policeman was deputed to ensure that they safely boarded the flight.
Kavitha said, “I am happy I could inspire the many women who want to go and pray there. I would also return and visit the shrine when I get a chance.”
Revathi Pogadadanda, CEO of Mojo TV, had proudly tweeted about her team, which was set to make history in the morning. On realising that her team fell short of just a few metres, she took to Twitter and said, “They r (sic) fighting for their right. They are fighting for what the #SupremeCourt said. Don’t take this country back to medieval ages! Let the law live."
(Sannidha Hari is a Calicut-based freelance writer and a part of 101Reporters' grassroots network.)
Updated Date: Oct 20, 2018 18:17:31 IST