By Prarthana Mitra
Tensions at Sabarimala continued as the temple reopened for the third time since the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry for women of menstruating age.
After local right-wing leader K.P. Sasikala was detained by Kerala police on Friday for creating law and order problems, Sangh outfit Hindu Aikya Vedi called for a statewide bandh and shutdown of the shrine. The temple board complained that the dawn-to-dusk hartal, an attempt to disrupt the sanctity, was uncalled for since the police had repeatedly requested Sasikala (who is over the controversial age group) to leave Marakkottam near Sabarimala before booking her. The hartal was largely peaceful and the woman was let off Saturday evening with a warning. Hartal supporters, however, did assault a female devotee, related to a CPM leader, who was on her way to offer prayers. Those supporters were later charged with attempt to murder.
In another standoff that ensued along the way, BJP general secretary K. Surendran, who was determined to continue his pilgrimage despite resistance from the police, was also taken into preventive custody Saturday night, creating a greater furore among the protestors.
Chanting ”Swamiyae Ayyappa,” he insisted that he was there as an “Ayyappa Bhaktha” and reportedly told the police, “You can’t stop us,” before he was taken away in a police vehicle. The police had to use water cannons to disperse BJP workers from outside the secretariat where they were protesting his arrest.
“You break law you will be booked, hartal or no hartal,” Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac tweeted on Saturday.
As part of unprecedented security arrangement, over 15,000 police personnel, a 20-member commando force, and a special bomb squad are keeping vigil in the temple town.
Women still wait to make history
This is the third time that the hilltop shrine had opened since the Supreme Court order. The temple expects a footfall of over one lakh devotees who will undertake the 62-day-long Mandala Pooja-Magaravilaku annual pilgrimage that started on November 15, 2018.
Notwithstanding the simmering atmosphere and violent clashes between law enforcement officials and self-appointed guardians of the shrine, thousands of devotees made the trek to the hilltop shrine to offer their prayers to Lord Ayappa. However, none of the 500 women who registered for the darshan on Kerala Police’s online portal have attempted the trip yet.
Activist Trupti Desai was held up at Cochin Airport for over 10 hours, as no cab driver outside Kochi airport agreed to take her team to their destination. She was ultimately forced to return to Maharashtra following over 13 hours of protests from devotees.
Mary Sweety, who had attempted the trek last month before beating a retreat amid violent protests, also reached Chengannur railway station on Saturday where protesters chanted Ayyappa Sharnam, blocked her bus, and didn’t allow her to proceed.
Under rising pressure from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s government, the Travancore Devaswom Board has reportedly softened its staunch disagreement with the verdict and plans to seek some more time before implementing the controversial order. No woman between the age of 10-50 years has made it past the mob into the temple’s sanctum sanctorum since it opened after the historic verdict.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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