By Prarthana Mitra
After massive mob protests and violence obstructed the law at Sabarimala last month, the temple has been directed to open its gate for women of childbearing age again, for a special ceremony on November 5.
Ahead of the crucial day, Section 144 which prohibits unlawful assembly has been imposed starting November 4 till November 6, in several key areas including Nilakkal and Pamba. These districts witnessed intense conflict last month, between self-appointed guardians of the Ayappa shrine and women pilgrims who were on their way to the hilltop shrine to make history.
In addition, the area police are on high alert, with 1,300 of them deployed in the area to ensure maintenance of law and order.
The police have, so far, arrested 3,505 protestors, mostly from right-wing Hindutva groups, for intimidating and attacking women who legally arrived at the shrine to offer their prayers, after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on the entry of women of menstruating age. Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had called for a state-wide shutdown on Friday citing atrocities against Sabarimala devotees.
Here’s what happened last month
The verdict forbade the temple board to discriminate on the basis of physiological phenomena and ruled that women have the fundamental right to pray that is not contingent upon esoteric religious practices. Taking objection to this overhaul, the temple board and several religious outfits took to the streets, denying women their rightful entry to the sanctum sanctorum, waiting it out until the pilgrimage season come to an end.
When the gates to Sabarimala opened from October 17-22, large mobs assembled to heckle with pilgrims en route from Nilakkal to Pamba. They flagged down cars carrying women and forced them to turn back. Law and enforcement failed the handful of women who made it past the mob to undertake the trek from Nilakklal to the hilltop shrine. Not a single female devotee or journalist has made it past the fiery mob so far.
At the time, local MLA Kadakampally Surendran, said, “On the one side there is the apex court directive and on the other side is those opposing it, especially the BJP/RSS, and the state government was in between these two.”
Considering the events that unfolded over the week, the court may have a tougher time implementing the law when the temple reopens for its annual two-month-long pilgrimage season on November 17.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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