Four members of the transgender community have alleged that the Kerala police stopped them from proceeding to the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala and verbally abused them on Saturday morning. The alleged incident happened in Erumeli police station in Kottayam district. Erumeli, which lies 40 km from Sabarimala, is one of the entry points to the hill shrine.

Transwomen Avantika Vishnu, Renjumol Mohan, Trupti Shetty and Ananya Kumari began their journey from Ernakulam by car early on Saturday. They said they had requested Pathanamthitta district collector on December 12 to provide police protection to visit Sabarimala.

“When we reached Nilakkal, the police behaved rudely. They asked us to remove our sarees and dress up as men,” Avantika Vishnu told “How can they ask us to remove our clothes? How can they violate our human rights? I asked the officer whether he would change his dress if someone asked him to do so.”

Avantika said the four-member group set out from Ernakulam after observing the mandatory 41-day penance to visit the hill shrine. “We informed the police about our plans well in advance. We didn’t hide anything from them. Our only aim is to offer prayers at Sabarimala,” she said.

Police, however, has refuted the allegations. Deputy Superintendent of Police of Kanjirappally S Madhusoodanan, who was present at Erumeli police station, told that the police didn’t abuse the transwomen. “We appraised them of the security issues that might arise if they visited the shrine,” he said. “We have got information that protests will erupt if they tried to go to Sabarimala. They decided to go back on their own after listening to us. We didn’t stop them.”

He said police have not received any instructions to provide security to them. “We don’t know about the letter they claimed to have written to the Pathanamthitta district collector,” he said.

Madhusoodanan said one of the transwomen had visited Sabarimala dressed up as a male a few years ago. “That is why we asked them to change the dress and climb the hill dressing up as men,” he said.

The four transwomen are at the office of the Kottayam district superintendent of police.

Avantika Vishnu said they will not go back until they get police protection to go to Sabarimala. “When the government is talking about renaissance values, the police are abusing members of the transgender community. The government should urgently intervene in this issue,” she demanded.