Congress-led UDF members stage a protest against Supreme Court’s Sabarimala verdict, at Erumely in Kottayam. (Source: PTI) 

Tension Mounts As Devotees Stop Women From Travelling To Sabarimala

Tension looms large at Nilackal, the main gateway to Sabarimala, as devotees on Tuesday stopped vehicles and prevented women of the “banned” age group from trekking to the holy hill, ahead of the opening of the Lord Ayyappa temple on Wednesday for monthly pooja.

The shrine located on the mountain ranges of the ecologically fragile Western Ghats opens on Wednesday for the first time after the recent Supreme Court order permitting women of all age groups there.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, told reporters that no one would be allowed to block devotees from proceeding to Sabarimala.

Groups of women devotees, including senior citizens, clad in traditional sarees, could be seen stopping each and every vehicle at Nilackal, the base camp located about 20 kilometres from Sabarimala hill top.

Besides private vehicles, devotees even stopped and inspected Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses and asked young women to get out of it. Very few police personnel were present when the incidents happened.

One of the woman agitator said, “No woman belonging to the banned age group of 10-50 will be allowed to travel further from Nilackal and offer worship at the shrine” when it opens for the monthly pooja. The temple would be closed on Oct. 22 after the five-day monthly puja during the Malayalam month of Thulam.

Local television channels reported that some college students, who were sporting black colour dresses were asked to get out of a bus by devotees, alleging they were on their way to Sabarimala.

Ayyappa devotees wear black colour dress and a bead chain during the pilgrimage. Women journalists, who tried to reach the hill temple as part of their official assignments, were also stopped at the base camp.

“Stern action will be taken against anyone who prevents devotees from going to Sabarimala,” Vijayan said. Vijayan also made it clear that the government has no intention to file a review petition and would implement the Supreme Court order. The chief minister said the government has taken a stand on the issue that there should not be any discrimination on the basis of gender.

However, the government has clarified that it would not bring in any law to put its policy into practice. “But, will go by what the Supreme Court says,” Vijayan said.

Referring to the statement of Bharatiya Janata Party President PS Sreedharan Pillai that the government would be responsible for any law and order situation on the issue, Vijayan said it was the saffron party that was trying to create a problem in the state.

The chief minister also condemned the remark of a BJP supporter and actor Kollam Thulasi that “women who go to Sabarimala temple defying the custom should be ripped apart”.

A group of devotees continued their sit-in dharna in front of secretariat here to protest the government’s decision to implement the top court order.

Kerala has been witnessing intense protests, including prayer marches and mass rallies by Lord Ayyappa devotees and right wing outfits, against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict.

All protest rallies had witnessed mass participation of women, especially senior citizens. The Shiv Sena’s state unit recently warned of “mass suicides” if women of the “banned” age group visits Sabarimala.

Also read: BJP Protests Against Sabarimala Verdict