By Prarthana Mitra
As protests over the entry of women entered the third day, the scene at Sabarimala no longer bears any resemblance to a temple town in peak pilgrimage season. RSS-backed Hindu outfits have turned Kerala into a war zone, with their refusal to comply with Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala Temple without discrimination.
To enforce the law, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s government has left no stone unturned, deploying thousands of police and security personnel to escort women of the controversial age group to the sanctum sanctorum. Meanwhile, the state’s BJP and Congress units blame the CPI(M) government for branding all the devotees as Sangh Parivar activists, even demanding a judicial probe into the police action.
Despite arraignments from the High Court against heavy deployment and heckling of devotees, the police did manage to stop innumerable miscreants over the last couple of times the temple reopened. Even drones and navy helicopters were spotted surveying the trekking route along with the summarily promulgated Section 144 that prohibits large assemblies from banding. But unfortunately, no woman of menstruating age has managed to get past the mob and exercise their new right yet. Meanwhile, the law and order situation in the state is nearing dire proportions as the prolonged standoff politicises the matter further.
Here are the recent developments, after a massive police crackdown infused Sabarimala with renewed tension late Sunday.
- Over 70 pilgrims were arrested Sunday night for flouting prohibitory orders at the Sannidhanam. Right-wing outfits stepped up protests across the state, after devotees who staged ‘Namajapa‘ protest against police restrictions were detained following repeated pleas by the officials to vacate the “nadapandal” (pathway leading to the shrine).
- Another bunch of devotees was reportedly denied the permission to halt at Malikappuram, while right-wing outfits like the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) took their protests to police stations. Two Yuva Morcha activists tried to block Vijayan’s convoy Monday morning and were later arrested. The activists also took out a march to the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram.
- As tension mounted, the Travancore Devaswom Board filed an application seeking more time to implement the Supreme Court verdict, due to security issues and inadequate amenities at present.
- The state government backed the move, with Vijayan saying, “BJP circular to deploy Sangh Parivar leaders in Sabarimala is a move to take over control of the hill shrine. The effort will not succeed. Devaswon Board will decide everything in Sabarimala.”
- The Kerala High Court condemned and questioned Vijayan again on Monday over “police excesses” and harassment of pilgrims at Sabarimala, saying that policemen should be stationed at barracks. The HC also issued a notice saying the welfare of devotees is of paramount importance. Vijayan maintained that those arrested were not Ayappa devotees but RSS workers camping at Sannidhanam to create trouble.
- Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam visited Nilakkal, Pamba and Sannidhanam to take stock of infrastructure and amenities and criticised the state government for making a war zone out of the temple complex. BJP leaders of Kerala demanded a judicial probe into the police action.
- The state’s Congress unit has resolved to intensify the protests. The Congress-led United Democratic Front announced that they would violate the prohibitory order in Sabarimala Tuesday, if the state government did not withdraw it.
- Hindu Aikya Vedi leader KP Sasikala, who was arrested and later released on bail on Saturday, climbed up the 18 sacred steps on Monday, to offer prayers to Lord Ayyappa, the perennial celibate deity. She is above the age of 50.
- After three women of the menstruating age, Reshma Nishanth, Dhanya and Shanila, expressed their desire to visit the shrine at Ernakulam Press Club, protesters tried to obstruct their way while leaving. The three women, who had been preparing to make the climb decided against it following the recent developments. They were able to come out only after police intervention.
- A steep decline in footfall was registered on the third day of the pilgrimage season, as the shrine opened for the third time since the SC order was declared.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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