Police officers in charge of security in Sabarimala have reportedly told their superiors that protecting members of women activist groups intent on trekking up to the temple merely to make a political point would catalyse combative groups opposed to their entry and needlessly stretch finite police resources to the limit.
A senior officer, however, denied media reports that the police had “banned” the entry of “women activists” to Sabarimala till the busiest phase of the pilgrim season was over. The force was constitutionally bound to uphold the September 28 Supreme Court order allowing women between the age of 10 and 50 to worship at the temple, he said.
However, special officers in charge of security in Sabarimala had repeatedly flagged up the intense pressure on the overstretched force to protect women activists from the wrath of male protesters. Moreover, it did not help the police that the activists often announced their itinerary and time of arrival in advance on social media.
The officers had told the brass about their assessment in the wake of reports that more women activists were en route to Sabarimala. They reported an upsurge in the influx of pilgrims since Sunday and said it was near impossible for law enforcers to single out protesters from the crowd.
On Christmas Day alone, an estimated 1 lakh pilgrims made the four km forest trek from Pampa to Sannidhanam. Their numbers are likely to increase in the coming days, and the police would find themselves hard-pressed to ensure the security of activist women in the face of violent opposition from demonstrators without resorting to using of force.
Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) president A. Padmakumar echoed the thinking of the police when he made an open appeal to women activists on Tuesday to desist from visiting the temple till the Mandala Puja and Makaravilakku seasons were over.
He said a large section of Ayyappa devotees were aggrieved at the prospect of women between the age of 10 and 50 worshipping at the sanctum. Some quarters wanted to tap into that resentment to exacerbate social tensions for political gain. Mr. Padmakumar said women activists should not play into the hands of such elements.