A group of 11 Tamil women devotees who wanted to have Sabarimala darshan on Sunday was forced to leave after protests turned violent and police took two dozen protesters into custody.
The state unit of the BJP said what happened on Sunday was a CPI-M sponsored event and that the Kerala government should order a probe to find out who was behind the “conspiracy.”
Led by Selvie, an activist belonging to the Maniti Women’s group in Tamil Nadu, the women from the hitherto “banned” age group were forced to leave Pamba for Madurai after Ayyappa devotees chased them away from ascending the hill.
The women aged between 10-50 years had reached Pamba town at 5.30 a.m. and were seen squatting for hours till 11 a.m. demanding police protection to ascend the hill.
But traditional Ayyappa devotees also held the fort and did not allow them to move forward.
Reaching the base town at dawn, the group was parked on one side of the pathway leading to the temple while the protesters chanted slogans on the other side, determined not to allow passage to the women to go up.
They kept sloganeering and menacingly approached the group threatening them to go away. It was then around 11.30 a.m. that Kerala Police was forced to take over 20 protesters into custody.
Immediately hundreds of the others protesters came rushing down the pathway forcing the police and the Tamil women to flee to safety.
The group was sheltered inside a police vehicle near Pamba as Superintendent of Police Karthikeyan explained the situation to Selvie’s group.
“They have decided to return to Madurai and we will give them security for their return,” Karthikeyan told the media.
Earlier, around 10 a.m., Selvie told the media that since the protests have increased, “if the police tell us that we are unable to go, then we will return.”
“But we will come back later and also seek legal help. We came after the Kerala government had assured us entry to pray at the temple,” Selvie said as the protests around her mounted.
Later, after Karthikeyan told the media about the Tamil women’s decision to return to Madurai, Selvie said: “The police have asked us to return. So we are going back.”
At daybreak, the group was adamant to pray and Selvie said: “We will not go back without praying at the temple. The police should ensure protection to us to pray.”
They had faced the first hurdle when priests here refused to take part in the ritual that every Sabarimala pilgrim undergoes when they prepare the holy kit that is carried on the pilgrims’ head.
The women then had to prepare their own holy kits.
Sabarimala has been witnessing protests ever since September.
Before Selvie’s group, around two dozen other women have already tried and failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple even after the top court’s verdict on September 28 allowing women of all ages to enter the temple.
“We will give our lives to protect the customs and traditions of the Sabarimala temple. Under no circumstances will these women be allowed to go up the hill,” an angry devotee said on Sunday, as hundreds of others echoed the same.
The present two-month-long pilgrim season began on November 16. Compared to the previous ones, the number of pilgrims has dwindled drastically and temple revenues have also dipped.
State Minister for Devasoms (Temples) Kadakampally Surendran told the media that the final decision on Sabarimala rests with the Kerala High Court-appointed three-member committee.
A spokesman for the Pandalam Royal family, the custodians of the Sabarimala temple jewellery, P.S. Varma said: “Things have been quiet in the temple town. The entry of Tamil group has led to tempers going up.”
“One can suspect that there has been some sort of a conspiracy with the arrival of this group of women. One wonders if these women are real devotees. What is even more baffling is this has happened when important rituals attached to the temple ahead of the Mandalam puja have started today,” the spokesman said.
Activists belonging to the Sabarimala Karma Samithi were on a sit-in protest outside the official residence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
State BJP president P.S.Sreedharan Pillai accused the office of Vijayan to have stage-managed today’s unfortunate incidents.
“The office of Vijayan played a key role in bringing the Tamil group and it was done to destroy the Sabarimala temple, for which the police also played their role. We demand that the Kerala government ask the Centre to order a probe,” said Pillai.
But dismissing these allegations, state CPI-M secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told the media in the state capital that CPI-M has no interest in a woman entering the Sabarimala temple.
“The Kerala government is only abiding by the apex court verdict. I don’t think anyone would doubt me if I say that we and our feeder organizations have thousands of women members. So if we were keen that a woman should pray at the temple, it can be easily accomplished, but we do not have any such intention,” said Balakrishnan.