By Prarthana Mitra
As protestors and pilgrims progress towards the Ayappa shrine in Kerala this year, the temple town sees a pilgrimage season like no other. Protests against the entry of women continue unabated after a week since the temple reopened for a 2-month pilgrim season.
Owing to increasing pressure from the opposition and the Kerala High Court, the state government on Thursday lifted restrictions imposed on the passage of pilgrims in Sabarimala, even though no woman managed to enter the temple since the Supreme Court order.
Here’s what happened
Since the top court lifted the ban on women’s entry into the temple in September, right-wing mobs have resorted to violence and intimidation to prevent women from taking the uphill trek on three occasions.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government threatened stringent police action against miscreants with Section 144 and heavy deployment of police personnel. KSRTC bus services were not allowed after 8:30 PM. On Monday, 69 people from protesting right-wing groups at Sabarimala were arrested for defying police orders and spending the night at the temple. On Wednesday, 72 pilgrims were detained for breaching prohibitory orders and protesting against the entry of women, only to be released on bail.
Private vehicles were also banned beyond Nilakkal and numerous devotees were stopped from climbing the temple post 9 pm. Noted politicians received the same treatment. On Wednesday, the BJP unit in Kerala demanded action against police officer Yathish Chandra who entered into an argument with Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan after he denied his private vehicle entry to Sabarimala.
HC and Governor intervenes
Following days of relentless protest in and around Sabarimala by self-appointed guardians of the shrine, the state government announced to lift the security restrictions imposed in Sabarimala and its surrounding areas.
This follows the High Court’s orders on Tuesday demanding an explanation as to why they were necessary. It was hearing one of the numerous petitions against the use of police excesses over the weekend when the temple opened for the third time since the verdict. The HC also instructed the police to let devotees in groups or those chanting ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’ pass safely.
Vijayan met Governor P Sathasivam on Thursday to discuss ways to improve amenities and public transport from Nilakkal to Pamba, noting the decline in footfall this pilgrimage season, and in light of the grievance expressed by Pon Radhakrishnan. “During the half-an-hour meeting that began at 12.30 pm, they discussed the measures taken to address complaints regarding lack of basic amenities like drinking water, toilets and restrooms at Nilackal, Pampa and on way to Sanidhanam,” according to a statement released by the Governor’s office.
The two dignitaries also addressed the complaints about police action and the possibility of lifting Section 144, based on petitions the governor received from Congress, BJP and several right-wing groups.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.