Sabarimala temple in Kerala was on the boil once again as an 11-member group of women below the age of 50, owing allegiance to the Tamil Nadu-based progressive women’s forum Manathi, made an attempt to enter the hill shrine under police protection on Sunday.
After a stand-off lasting almost 10 hours, the police dissuaded the women from proceeding to the temple. Hundreds of devotees blocked the trekking path at Pampa and chased away the Manathi team escorted till there by the police.
The team, led by Selvi, reached Pampa in a van, escorted by six police vehicles, around 3.40 a.m. on Sunday. They had crossed the border areas of Cumbum and Theni under heavy police protection.
The priests at the Balippuras at Pampa-Triveni declined to assist the women in performing Bali-tharpanom. The priests at the Pampa Ganapati Temple too refused to do the Kettunira, filling of Irumudikkettu (sacred bundle), for them, saying that assisting a woman in the child-bearing age group to undertake the pilgrimage would be in violation of the custom at Sabarimala.
After the priests refused to oblige them, six women in the Manathi team from Tamil Nadu filled their Irumudikkettu themselves and proceeded to the trekking path leading to the Sabarimala. They moved to the door-framed metal detectors kept at Pampa, raising the slogan, ‘men and women are equals’ (Aanu, pennu samam in Tamil). A large number of protesters of the Sabarimala Action Council confronted them at Chelikkuzhi, the entry point to the trekking path, with loud chants around 5.15 a.m. and prevented them from going further.
The police arrested and removed a section of protesters, paving the way for the Manathi team to proceed to the Sabarimala trekking path by 11.15 a.m.
The protesters were arrested after team leader Selvi insisted that the police give in writing that they are unable to give protection for the pilgrimage.
The women and the police faced strong resistance from a mob of protesters who blocked the former’s entry to the Neelimala path. The situation took an unpleasant turn when the mob advanced towards the women. Soon, the women and the police retreated from the scene.
The police took the 11 women to the police control room at Pampa and from there to Nilackal. The Manathi team later returned to Tamil Nadu under police escort.
Ms. Selvi told reporters that “the Kerala Chief Minister and the police had assured them protection to visit Sabarimala and it was quite unjust on their part to deny protection now.”
Normalcy was restored at Pampa and Sabarimala by 2 p.m., with the women leaving the base camps and the police withdrawing the bandobast at Pampa.
Police Special Officer at Pampa P. Karthikeyan said the use of force to disperse the protesters would have put the ordinary pilgrims too at risk. “Moreover, it is difficult to identify the protesters among the devotees,” he said.