Showdown near Sabarimala, two women turned back

Traditionalists opposed to the entry of women in the 10-50 age group to the Sabarimala temple despite a Supreme Court ruling took on the Kerala government on Wednesday, forcibly turning back stray women visiting the shrine despite police assurances that no one will be prevented from taking part in the pilgrimage.

The police meanwhile arrested members of the Pandalam Royal and Sabarimala temple Tantri families, including women, taking part in a protest near here against the temple’s opening to all women.

They were taken in a police jeep to a nearby police station, triggering more protests during which two women television journalists also came under attack.

“How can the police arrest a very elderly lady of the Tantri family? She was on a peaceful protest. This is not acceptable,” said state BJP General Secretary K. Surendran as he squatted at the site with his supporters.

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

The woman, Madhavi, accompanied by her parents and children began the climb leading to the hilltop temple hours ahead of its opening for the monthly puja rituals.

Ten minutes into their trek, accompanied by a police force, the family had to abandon their plans.

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 angry devotees who booed her.

“I wanted to pray at the Sabarimala temple,” she said as police took her to a police station for protection.

On Wednesday morning, 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.

Activist and Tantri family member Rahul Eashwar, who is leading the protest, was told by Additional Director General of Police Anil Kanth that laws should not be broken. “We told the officer that we are only sitting and praying,” Eashwar said.

On Wednesday, the temple will open its doors at 5 p.m. for monthly pujas which will end on October 22.

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

Industries Minister and veteran CPI-M leader E.P.Jayarajan said that those opposing the entry of women to the temple will face the wrath of the Sabarimala Ayyappa.

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

Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham said the police were fully geared to face any eventuality.

“We have registered three cases and seven people have been arrested,” he said.

The protesters also stopped two women government health officials who had come to take part in 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.

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