Sabarimala: Protesters clash with police, women turned back

Sabarimala/Nilackal (Kerala): Protesters opposed to the entry of women in the 10-50 age group to the Sabarimala temple clashed with police and heckled women journalists as the pilgrimage season opened on Wednesday, with no woman in that group making it to the hill shrine despite police assurances.

Shortly before the famed temple opened at 5 p.m., the authorities decided to clamp prohibitory orders in a 30-sq km area of the temple town on Thursday — to prevent the kind of street protests seen on Wednesday.

The temple opened for the first time after the September 28 Supreme Court ruling allowing entry of women aged between 10 and 50. In no time, frenzied male and female crowds took over the roads leading to the temple to block women in that age group.

Pathanamthitta District Collector P.B. Nooh said Section 144 will be enforced in view of the “widespread protests of today”.

Minister for Devasoms Kadakampally Surendran, who was at the temple town overseeing the arrangements for the temple opening, asked the BJP and RSS protesters to desist from creating trouble.

“The Sabarimala issue should not be allowed to flare up. The government has no other option but to ensure that the apex court’s directive is implemented,” he told the media.

But contrary to expectations, no woman aged 10 to 50 was able to make it to the temple, which will remain open for five days.

There was a sit-in protest near the hallowed 18 steps leading to the sanctum santorum, with a banner reading that the traditions of the temple should be maintained.

Traditionalists opposed to the entry of women forcibly turned back a woman from Andhra Pradesh and another who tried to make it to the temple.

During the day, demonstrators clashed on four occasions at Nilackal and Pamba with the police, leaving some protesters and police personnel injured. More than a dozen protesters were arrested.

Similar protests in and around the temple town forced a 45-year-old woman from Andhra Pradesh and her family to abandon their trip to the Ayyappa temple.

As angry protesters went after her, shouting and abusing, Madhavi decided to return.

Another woman devotee, Liby, who got down at the Pathanamthitta bus stand and was to board a bus to Nilackal, faced a mob and was taken to a police station for safety.

The police also detained members of the Pandalam Royal and Sabarimala temple Tantri families, including women, taking part in a protest. Their arrests triggered more protests.

On Wednesday morning, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra said there was a very strong police presence in and around Sabarimala.

“None will be stopped nor will anyone be allowed to take law into their hands. Anyone can come and pray,” he added. But it did not happen that way.

Barring the Left government, the Congress, BJP and Hindu organisations are on a war path against the apex court ruling.

Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said the issue in Sabarimala was not one of gender equality.

“The CPI-M-led government has not even cared to file a review petition while the BJP and RSS are out to create problems. Here the issue is of faith and traditions,” he said.

Earlier, police chased away a group of protesters at Nilackal who were stopping and checking vehicles to see if they had women in the 10-50 age group.

Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham said the police had registered three cases and seven people had been arrested.

The protesters also stopped two women government health officials who were heading for a routine meeting at the temple. They were allowed to go in only after they showed proof that they were aged above 50.

Protesters also shooed away a few women police constables who were trying to go to the temple town.

Some female reporters working for the electronic media were injured when the protesters turned their ire on the journalists. Later, journalists working for Malayalam TV channels also came under attack.