Amid increased protests, which turned violent Wednesday, the Sabarimala temple opened its doors to devotees for the first time since the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the shrine.
Following clashes between police, protesters and devotees, prohibitory orders were clamped at Pamba and Nilakkal in the wake of a dawn to dusk hartal called by the Sabarimala Action Committee on Thursday.
Despite assurances by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Tuesday that nobody will be blocked from entering the Lord Ayappa shrine and heavy police security, protesters at Nillakal and Pamba – the two base camps before the temple – turned back two women pilgrims and heckled, threatened and even attacked at least five women journalists and targeted their vehicles.
Madhavi, a 45-year-old woman from Andhra Pradesh, may have become the first woman to trek the Sabarimala hills and enter the shrine after the apex court verdict but was forced to retreat with her son and daughter by angry activists of the Ayappa Dharma Sena.
Another woman travelling to Sabarimala was stopped at a bus stand and asked to return while a Tamil Nadu couple, aged 45 and 40, on their way to Pamba, were forced to get off a state transport bus allegedly by activists of the Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti.
Trouble began hours before the iron gates of the Sabarimala temple opened for monthly rituals when Nillakal descended into violence and chaos after clashes between the police and thousands of protesters, who opposed the entry of women of all ages and blamed the Left government led by Vijayan for not filing a review petition.
Police had to resort to several baton charges through the day to disperse agitators blocking roads leading to Sabarimala. While three policemen and five agitators were injured, scores of vehicles, including government buses ferrying devotees, were damaged. Ayyappa Dharma Sena President and young member of the thantri family Rahul Easwar was arrested for allegedly preventing women from going to the temple.
DGP Loknath Behera said 700 police personnel, including 100 women personnel, were deployed at Nilakkal and Pamba. “Police have been deployed in all sensitive areas to maintain law and order situation. Another 300 police personnel, including commandos, will be rushed to the shrine and base stations,’’ he said. The shrine will close again on October 22 after the five-day long monthly ritual.
Pooja Prasanna of Republic TV, Mousami Singh of India Today, Rajeesh of Reporter TV, Radhika Ramaswamy of CNN-News18 and Saritha S Balan of The News Minute were among the journalists who were attacked and had to be rescued by the police.
Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said the government would not tolerate violence at Sabarimala.