A 52-year-old woman was able to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on Saturday only after she showed protestors proof of her age, reported Manorama Online. The situation outside the shrine was tense for the fourth consecutive day after rumours among protestors that the woman was less than 50 years old.
Women of menstruating age have traditionally not been allowed into the temple, but a Supreme Court order last month put an end to the restriction. There have been protests outside the shrine since Wednesday, when the temple gates opened to devotees for monthly rituals for the first time since the court’s order. Protestors have blocked women devotees, activists and journalists who have tried to enter the temple since Wednesday.
Pathanamthitta District Collector PB Nooh played down reports about the incident on Saturday. “A woman came for darshan,” Nooh said. “Some news channels followed her. Then a crowd gathered. That was the only matter.” Nooh said there is no confirmed report about any young woman visiting the shrine so far.
Meanwhile, the police turned away a Dalit woman in her 30s who had come to Pamba to visit the shrine. The police told Manju, a leader of the Kerala Dalit Federation, that she could not proceed to the temple due to security reasons. Earlier, the police had said they would not allow Manju to enter the temple on Saturday due to heavy rain in the area.
However, the woman said she would return on Sunday or Monday. She said she was returning as there was a lack of facilities in Pamba for devotees. The police are verifying the woman’s background, and a decision regarding her proposed visit will be taken on Sunday, PTI reported citing police officials. Manju is now under police protection.
Angry devotees in Pamba demonstrated against the woman’s attempt to reach the shrine.
Police arrest BJP workers
The police arrested several workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party for violating prohibitory orders in place in Sabarimala, Ilavunkal and Pamba until October 23, Manorama Online reported. A group of BJP workers was also arrested at Nilackal, and taken to Nilackal police station, PTI reported. They were led by party state General Secretary AN Radhakrishnan. Radhakrishnan said thousands of Ayyappa devotees were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect the sanctity of the “forest of Lord Ayyappa”.
Over a hundred officers and constables of the Kerala Police have been stationed at Nilackal, The Indian Express reported.
A court in Pathanamthitta rejected the bail plea of activist Rahul Easwar, who protested against the Supreme Court’s order, Hindustan Times reported. Easwar’s wife claimed the activist, who is on a hunger strike, was in a bad condition.
A member of the Travancore Devaswom Board criticised the Sabarimala temple chief priest’s assertion that the shrine would be closed if the traditions are violated. KP Sankardas alleged that Kandararu Rajeevaru’s statement was in contempt of court. Claiming that shutting down the shrine was also against its customs, Sankardas accused the chief priest and Pandalam royal family of pandering to the agenda of certain political groups.
Rajeevaru had on Friday said the temple will be closed if women reach the ‘pathinettam padi’ (18 sacred steps) and the keys will be handed over to the Pandalam royal family, reported Manorama Online.
Those who oppose the traditional ban on women entering the shrine contend that it is prejudiced against women and is linked to orthodox notions of menstruating women being impure. However, temple authorities and protestors argue that Ayyappa was believed to have taken a vow of celibacy and the restriction was meant to respect his mission and keep the deity away from distraction. They say this practice has been followed down the ages, because worshippers were required to fast for 41 days before undertaking the pilgrimage to Sabarimala, something that menstruating women could not undergo for physiological regions.
The Left government in the state 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.
Several women attempted to trek up to the hill shrine on Friday, including activist Rehana Fatima, journalist Kavitha Jakkal, and a devotee Mary Sweety. Jakkal and Fatima abandoned the trek amid protests, and Sweety said there was no option but to return.