High drama at Sabarimala foothills as women, police face ire of devotees
Though the police team tried to arrest and remove a few of the devotees who blocked the traditional forest path and take the women members of Chennai-based outfit ‘Manithi’, hundreds of pilgrims rushed down to the valley to chase them away.Updated: Dec 23, 2018 20:16 IST
The Sabarimala foothills in Pamba on Sunday witnessed a high drama 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 police.
Though the police team tried to arrest and remove a few of the devotees who blocked the traditional forest path and take the women members of Chennai-based outfit ‘Manithi’, hundreds of pilgrims rushed down to the valley to chase them away.
They could barely move 100 metres through the traditional path towards the temple, which is about five km away from Pamba base camp. 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.
Fearing that more protestors will descend at the shrine, police suspended bus services temporarily. The women said that they came after getting assurance from the Kerala police, which the latter denied.
After being evicted from Pamba base camp and being taken to Nilakkal, Manithi outfit member Selvi said, “Police succumbed to ruffians. We will approach the Supreme Court. State failed again. We will come back again.”
Earlier, Thilakavathi, one of the members of the group, told a television channel, that “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.” More members of their outfit would reach the state soon to visit Sabarimala, she added.
Meanwhile, the high court-appointed panel, including two judges, refused to interfere in the standoff.
Shaji Sugunan, Special Officer, Law and Order, Pamba, said that the women were stopped by the other pilgrims. “The women devotees have returned now. We can’t use force. It might create a law and order problem,” Sugunan added.
The attempt by the women devotees drew stiff condemnation from the BJP and others opposing the visit of women aged between 10 and 50 to the temple. A group of protestors held a sit-down outside Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s official residence Cliff House, while Hindu Aikya Vedi chief KP Sasikala said, “Come what may we will not allow dilution of age old customs. We are ready to die”.
The Pandalam royal family also said they will not allow flouting the ancient customs of the temple, and the supreme priest threatened to close the shrine when the women came close.
BJP leader B Gopalakrishnan said, “This is a deliberate attempt of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to destroy Sabarimala Temple. No young lady from Kerala wants to go there because they’re all devotees of Lord Ayappa”, according to news agency ANI.
The shrine in Pathanamthitta district has been witnessing violent protests by a section of devotees and right-wing groups since the Supreme Court’s September 28 verdict allowing women of all ages to worship at the temple.
Trouble began when the state government rushed to implement the verdict. Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) feel the affidavit of the state government supporting women’s entry led to the top court’s verdict.
As the shrine opened for the annual pilgrimage on November 17, the government imposed many restrictions, including prohibitory orders, at the hilltop and the base camps to tackle protesters and deployed more than 10,000 police personnel.
The state also witnessed three shutdowns over the issue and an uneasy calm is still prevailing at the temple area.
First Published: Dec 23, 2018 15:11 IST