The Sabarimala temple in Kerala will open on Saturday for the annual pilgrimage season, two days after the Supreme Court referred a batch of review petitions on the entry of women of all ages to the shrine to a larger seven-judge bench.
The shrine will be opened at 5 pm on Saturday. Security has been tightened with over 10,000 police personnel posted in and around the hill temple, The New Indian Express reported. Pilgrims will be allowed to trek to the temple from the afternoon.
The state government on Friday said it will not protect women’s rights activists who plan to visit the Sabarimala temple. Kerala Devaswom Board Minister Kadakampally Surendran said those seeking protection to visit the shrine will have to get a court order. “This [Sabarimala shrine] is not a place for activism,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram after the top court verdict.
“This is not a place for activists like Trupti Desai to show their strength. We won’t take them in. Let them go get a court order.”
“The presence of activists has in the past acted as a catalyst for communally divisive forces to muster their cadres and attack pilgrims and police in the name of defending the faith in Sabarimala”, he said.
Women’s rights campaigner Trupti Desai said she will visit the temple after November 20 irrespective of whether the state government provides protection or not, ANI reported. As many as 45 women of menstrual age have made online bookings to enter the temple this year, according to reports.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which met on Friday, also decided against granting women permission to enter the temple. “The common emotion of the secretariat was not to allow women to enter the temple till the apex court finalises the verdict,” an unidentified party leader told PTI. They said many crucial components of the September 2018 verdict had been referred for another review, and felt that the government should not allow women to the hill shrine.
State Law Minister AK Balan said the government will approach competent legal experts on the “confusions” prevailing over the top court verdict. While hearing the review petitions last year, the Supreme Court explicitly stated that the verdict to allow women entry to the temple stands and has not been stayed, but no such specific mention has been made as part of the latest decision.
“This Sabarimala season will be peaceful,” Balan added. “But if anyone tries to hamper the peaceful darshan of devotees, the government will take strong action. If someone thinks that they can exploit the devotees by spreading lies and turn them against the government, let me tell you, it’s not going to happen.”
The chief priest of the temple, Mahesh Kandarau, said all arrangements have been made for the opening of the temple, Hindustan Times reported. “There are no prohibitory orders this time,” he said. “But we will deal with trouble makers with a heavy hand.”
Meanwhile, N Vasu took charge as the Travancore Devaswom Board president on Friday and said there would have been more clarity had the top court said its 2018 order was stayed. “We don’t ask men or women to come to Sabarimala,” he said. “Devotees come by themselves. As we need some clarity on young women entering the temple after the recent Supreme Court order, we have asked for legal advice.”
In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench, which included former Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had allowed women of all ages to enter the Ayyappa temple, leading to massive protests. Only a handful of women managed to enter the shrine.
On Thursday, a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court had ruled, in a 3:2 verdict, that a larger bench should again consider the matter of the entry of women of all ages into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple.
The matter snowballed into a huge political issue, with the state Election Commission banning political outfits from bringing it up during election campaigns. Many conservative and religious leaders criticised the court’s judgement. The ruling Left government, however, had supported the entry of women, opposing the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.