Women’s rights activists, led by Trupti Desai, cancelled their plans on Tuesday night to visit the Sabarimala temple in Kerala after the state police refused them protection due to security reasons, PTI reported. Earlier in the day, Desai had said that she would leave the state only after visiting the temple, which bans the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50.
This came hours after women’s rights activist Bindu Ammini was attacked with pepper spray as she, along with Desai and four others, reached Kochi to visit the Sabarimala temple. Ammini had stepped out of the commissioner’s office to collect some files when the attack took place.
A video of the incident showed Ammini shielding herself and running away from the man. She was admitted to the General Hospital in Ernakulam district. The Kerala Women’s Commission registered a case and initiated legal proceedings against the perpetrators.
“We had discussions with the police officers of the Kochi police commissionerate,” Desai said. “Police told us that there is a threat to our life and will be insecure here. So we decided to go back but we will return to Sabarimala. We will continue our fight.” She also condemned the attack on Ammini, allegedly by a Hindu right-wing activist.
A large group of Ayyappa devotees, workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Sabarimala Karma Samiti had gathered outside the commissionerate when the activists had reached to seek protection. The crowd chanted “Ayyappa Saranam’’ in protest against the activists’ visit.
The Maharashtra-based ‘Right to Pray’ activist said that they did not plan to reach Sabarimala secretly, and had sent an email to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the director general of police about the visit. “If there was any problem, why weren’t we informed about it before we arrived here?” Desai told The News Minute.
Desai said that she asked for a written statement from the police, clarifying why she would not be given protection. However, officials refused to provide such a declaration, saying that the matter was sub-judice, the activist claimed, adding that the Supreme Court had not stayed the entry of women into the shrine.
The activist had made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the temple in November 2018, weeks after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50.
“They wanted us to give in writing about our inability to give police protection,” Additional Commissioner of Police KP Philip said, according to The Indian Express. “But we will not do that – such an undertaking would cause trouble for the police and the government later.” The attack on Bindu outside the commissionerate would be investigated, the police said.
Bindu alleged that the attack was pre-meditated, and that she was detained “under the guise of protection”. She had filed a written application to the city police for protection to visit the shrine, she said.
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. While hearing the review petitions last year, the Supreme Court had explicitly stated that the verdict to allow women to enter the temple stands and has not been stayed, but no such specific mention has been made as part of the latest decision.
On November 14, 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 state government had said on November 15 that it will not protect women’s rights activists who plan to visit the Sabarimala temple. Kerala Devaswom Board Minister Kadakampally Surendran had said those seeking protection to visit the shrine will have to get a court order.