Eleven women pilgrims attempting to pray at the Sabarimala hill shrine in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district on Sunday morning were chased and attacked by protestors with links to the Sangh Parivar, forcing them to abandon their plans.
Since a Supreme Court decision in September lifting a ban on women of menstruating age entering the shrine, six female pilgrims have previously attempted to pray at Sabarimala – only to be thwarted by protestors claiming that their presence will defile the temple.
Sunday’s violence has demonstrated the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s lack of will to implement the Supreme Court verdict, said Adivasi leader Ammini K Wayanad, who was supposed to join the 11 women. Ammini, who prefers to be addressed by her first name, had been forced to abandon her trip at Erumeli, 40 km from Sabarimala.
“If they are serious about the verdict, they would have used enough force to take the women to Sabarimala,” she said. “Three months have passed since the Supreme Court delivered the verdict. The Communist government has failed us and the Constitution,”
She also questioned the relevance of the state-sponsored 600-km Women’s Wall event planned for January 1. The event has been billed as a protest against the Sangh Parivar’s actions blocking women from travelling to Sabarimala and to highlight the Kerala’s progressive social traditions. Around 30 lakh women are expected to attend, standing shoulder-to-shoulder from the northern end of the state to the south.
“If they are keen on women’s empowerment, they should ensure women’s entry to Sabarimala,” Ammini said.
The 11 women, who were from Tamil Nadu had barely walked 100 metres of the 5-km hilly pilgrimage route on Sunday, when 500 men from Hindutva groups charged towards them, chanting incantations to Lord Ayyappa, the principal deity at the Sabarimala temple. The attack caught the women unawares and they ran to the safety of the nearby police outpost. As they scampered for cover, some women stumbled. The police personnel escorting the women also ran away from the mob.
Following the incident, the women abandoned their pilgrimage. Selvi, the leader of the group, said that the police had forcibly sent them back. But police officials said the women had decided on their own to turn back. “They have decided to go back to Madurai,” said G Karthikeyan, the police officer in charge of the security at Pampa, in the Sabarimala foothills. “We will provide them security.”
The police arrested ten people for the attacks, charging them with unlawful assembly, rioting, wrongful restraint, disobedienceand obstruction of public way.
The women were members of a Chennai-based women’s rights organisation called Manithi. Though they arrived in Pampa at 5 am on Sunday, they were not allowed to proceed by the workers of the Hindutva outfits. The police asked them to abandon their plan but the women stood their ground. Six hours later, when the police agreed to provide an escort the women.
The trek began with a few police personnel forming a cordon around the women. But the protective shield was broken within minutes with the onslaught of the mob. The police deserted the women and left them fend for themselves, Manithi members claimed. Senior police officials were conspicuous by their absence during the incident.
“Police failed to provide protection for the women,” said Adivasi leader Ammini.
Charges of collusion
Ammini said the government should explain how hundreds of Hindutva workers had been able to gather in Pampa despite a police order prohibiting the assembly of more than four people under Section 144 in Sabarimala and nearby areas. “It is major failure of the police department,” she said.
Dalit activist OP Raveendran said Sunday’s incidents showed that the CPI(M)-led government is working hand-in-glove with Hindutva outfits. “The government is helping Sangh Parivar to grow,” he said. “It is a shame that this government has not been able to implement the Supreme Court verdict till now.”
Formed in 2015, Manithi is a women’s collective based in Chennai. Selvi, the group’s leader, told Scroll.in that she had written to Chief Minister Pinarayi Viayan asking for police protection in order to be able to pray at Sabarimala. “We decided the dates only after getting the assurance mail from his office,” she said.
Despite the setback, Manithi members said they would not give up on their mission. “We will come back to Sabarimala soon,” said Selvi.