Women’s rights activist Trupti Desai will return to her hometown Pune after protestors stopped her from leaving Cochin International Airport in Kerala on Friday to visit the Sabarimala temple.
At a press conference before leaving Kochi, Desai alleged that the protestors had warned hotel owners of damage to their establishments if rooms were let out to her team, ANI reported. “It saddens me to see that people who call themselves Ayyappa devotees are abusing and threatening us.”
“We were fighting for equal rights for women,” she added. “But some people say ‘do not hurt our religious sentiments’. Some people say they are from the Bharatiya Janata Party, some from the Congress. The protestors are saying we will beat you, we will kill you.”
She claimed that the protestors were scared, and asserted that her team would eventually enter the Sabarimala shrine – but not openly. “We will use guerrilla tactics,” Desai claimed.
She said the police asked her to leave and cautioned her about violence if her team tried to proceed. “We are leaving not because we are scared, but because we do not want to cause problems for the people of Kerala,” she said. “I thank the Kerala Police for their cooperation.”
Desai had arrived at the airport at 4.40 am and was inside it till evening along with six women who accompanied her from Pune.
The police filed cases against 250 persons for protesting against women’s rights activist Trupti Desai earlier in the day, Mathrubhumi reported. Protestors claimed Desai and her team were trying to violate the temple’s centuries-old customs.
“She [Desai] came here not for darshan but for disturbing a peaceful Sabarimala pilgrim season beginning Saturday,” a protestor was quoted as saying. Several police personnel were deployed to control the situation.
But Desai denied this. “We have not come here to disrupt law and order,” she told NDTV.
Earlier this week, Desai had said she would try to enter the temple with her colleagues this weekend. Her announcement came days after the Supreme Court refused to stay its September 28 order allowing women of all ages to enter the hill shrine. Before the ruling , women of menstruating age were not permitted to enter the temple.
The shrine reopened for the Mandala pooja Mahotsavam on Friday evening and will close on December 27. Women have so far been prevented from entering the temple on the two occasions it had opened to devotees after the top court’s September order.
Activist Rahul Easwar later joined the protestors outside the airport, ANI reported. “Trupti Desai should go back,” he said. “She will have to step on our chests and walk over us if she wants to enter the temple.”
Desai was defiant earlier in the day. She had said: “We will not return to Maharashtra without darshan at the Sabarimala temple. We have faith in the government that it will provide security for us. It is the responsibility of the state government and the police to provide protection and take us to the temple as the Supreme Court has allowed women of all ages to offer prayers at the shrine.”
Desai said that police tried to evacuate the group through another exit, but protestors had gathered there as well, ANI reported. “Does this mean protestors are scared that we will reach Sabarimala once we reach Nilakkal, or are they trying to scare us?”
Kerala’s Minister for Agriculture VS Sunil Kumar alleged Desai was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist, reported NDTV. “Behind her [Desai’s] plans to enter the temple, there is the thinking of RSS.”
In response, the activist said she was not interested in politics. “I request the leader to not defame us,” Desai told NDTV. “The RSS-BJP activists are protesting against us.”
“It is better to send Trupti Desai back,” FirstPost quoted Travancore Devaswom Board President A Padmakumar as saying. The Bharatiya Janata Party has also asked the state government to send Desai back to Maharashtra. “She is trying to purposely instigate a law and order situation in Kerala,” said state BJP President PS Sreedharan Pillai.
Meanwhile, the Aluva tehsildar met Desai at the airport and urged her to return, Manorama Online reported.
The activist – who has led similar protests demanding that women be allowed to enter the Shani Shignapur temple in Ahmednagar, Kolhapur’s Mahalakshmi temple, and the Shiva temple near Nashik – had said the group would enter Sabarimala “with folded hands” and Gandhian principles in mind.