A mob claiming to be Ayyappa devotees on Wednesday attacked several mediapersons, including female journalists, reporting from Sabarimala in Kerala as the temple opened its gates for all. Last month, the Supreme Court had allowed the entry of women between the ages of 10 and 50 to the Sabarimala temple, a decision that has led to widespread protests in the state.
Police personnel were deployed at Pamba, Nilakkal and Erumeli, three important landmarks on the route to Sabarimala. Protestors pelted stones at the vehicles of media personnel, who were on their way to report the matter. Nilakkal is a halting place for Ayyappa devotees during the Sabarimala pilgrimage and located about 23 km from the temple.
Journalists of many media organisations, including NDTV, The News Minute, Republic TV, and India Today were heckled and their vehicles were vandalised. Protestors wearing black and saffron turbans were seen kicking vehicles in order to stop them from heading to Pamba from Nikakkal, PTI reported.
Protestors heckled NDTV journalist Sneha Koshy and cameraperson SP Babu at Pamba base camp, asking them to leave, NDTV reported. Some other protestors attacked a reporter of ETV Bharat, Mohammed Shafi, in Nilakkal. He has been hospitalised. Republic TV reported that its South Bureau Chief Pooja Prasanna and her crew were attacked by a mob of over 100 men en route Sabarimala. A mob reportedly surrounded her car and shouted loudly at her, making intimidating gestures, besides banging on the car from all sides.
Some protestors verbally abused Scroll.in reporter TA Ameerudheen when the vehicle he was travelling in got stuck in traffic at Nilakkal. “You mediapersons are concerned only about beef ban,” the protestors shouted. “You are working for Pinarayi [Vijayan]. We are allowing you to go as there are no women inside. You people are creating trouble. Don’t come back here. Go.”
Saritha S Balan of The News Minute was on a Kerala State Road Transport Corporation bus proceeding to Sabarimala when a mob of 20 men stopped the bus and tried to get her out. The news portal reported that she was intimidated, physically attacked and verbally abused. One of the members of the mob kicked her in the spine even as the police tried to form a protective ring around her. A woman protestor reportedly threw a water bottle at Saritha.
A journalist at news website Newsgil, Libi CS, was stopped from proceeding to the temple at Pathanamthitta bus terminal. She had announced in a Facebook post on Wednesday that she would be travelling to Sabarimala. As soon as she arrived at the bus terminal, police formed a protective ring around her and escorted her to a safe place.
ANI reporter Ayushmaan Kumar was attacked at Nilakkal base camp. The police were reportedly present at the spot when the attack took place.
‘Ensure safety of journalists’
The Network of Women in Media, India, denounced the attacks. “We demand that the chief minister and the government of Kerala take immediate action against agitators who let violent assailants loose on journalists,” the organisation said in a statement. “It is incumbent on the government to create a secure environment for journalists to report from Pamba and nearby areas on an issue that is of interest and concern to public. The government must immediately ensure safety of journalists and assure media that lives of reporters are not in danger.”
Congress leader and Pathanamthitta legislator Anto Antony condemnded the attacks against mediapersons. “Journalists should be allowed to perform their duties,” he told Scroll.in. “I strongly condemn the attacks against them.”
The Left Front government in Kerala has decided to implement the court ruling and not file a review petition, while the Opposition Congress and the BJP have accused the state of showing “undue haste” in implementing the order. The National Ayyappa Devotees Association and the Nair Service Society have filed review petitions in the top court.