Woman devotee from Andhra, family forced to turn back midway by Sabarimala protesters
Hundreds are protesting against the entry of women of menstrual age into the Sabarimala temple, the hill shrine in Kerala dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, that is set to open for devotees, including women, at 5pm on Wednesday after the SC verdict on the case.
A 40-year-old woman devotee from Andhra Pradesh was on Wednesday forced to turn back by protesters opposing the entry of women of menstrual age into the hill shrine in Sabarimala of Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district despite the presence of thousands of police personnel, including policewomen, at the base camps.
The temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is set to open for devotees, including women, at 5pm, the first time after the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages access to the shrine.
Madhavi, who was with her parents and children, began the climb from the first base camp of Pambha, from where the temple is 5km away, according to news agency IANS. They had to abandon the trek soon as unrelenting protesters hooted and forced them to return despite being accompanied by a strong police force.
Madhavi was able to break the barriers at Nilakkal and Pambha as she trekked higher and police officers climbing with her assured her that they would support her if she wanted to proceed. But she turned back.
The situation remained tense but under control, as protesters threatened suicides and self-immolation and blocked women of reproductive age from visiting the 800-year-old shrine since its presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered to be celibate. All small towns leading to Sabarimala, Erumeli, Vadessrikara, in Pathanamthitta remained tense as police said they would not let anyone to block the movement of the people.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has reiterated that his administration will not file any review petition against last month’s Supreme Court order that allowed women between 10 years and 50 years to enter Sabarimala in what has been hailed as a landmark verdict.
He said no one will be allowed to stop devotees from visiting the temple in the Western Ghats.
The Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and several Hindu organisations have been protesting the top court’s verdict and have warned of strong consequences if any temple traditions were broken.
BJP leaders like K Surendran and Sobha Surendran have been staging a sit-in protest at Pambha even as the grandmother of right-wing activist Rahul Easwar was arrested by the police.
The protesting devotees, including representatives from the Pandalam royal family and those from the families of the temple’s chief priests or tantris, are chanting songs and prayers at some places at Nilakkal, reported IANS.
It reported that another woman, who was on her way to pray at the temple wearing jeans, was stopped at the Pathanamthitta bus stand by angry devotees.
“Is this the way a lady should go to the temple? She claims to have observed the penance but if you look at the beads of the customary Sabarimala necklace, it’s very clear that she has worn it today or yesterday. This is not acceptable to us and she won’t be allowed to go,” a group of women protesters was quoted as saying by IANS.
Liby, who is from Alappuzha, is being protected by a group of police officials.
“We will not allow the bus that she boards to go to Sabarimala to move from here. We will burn the bus and are ready to face any consequences,” a young man at the bus stand said, according to IANS.
Following the protest, the police took her to the nearby police station.
Tents of devotees in Nilakkal, the second base camp, were demolished as police dispersed protesters and warned them against preventing women from entering the shrine. They also removed a makeshift shelter erected by a protesting group Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti, which has called for a 24-hour shutdown.
The temple authorities put a banner over a board, which had said that women in the 10-50 age group were barred inside the shrine, on Tuesday night.
The temple would be closed on October 22 after the five-day monthly prayer during the Malayalam month of Thulam.