As the Sabarimala temple opened Friday amid tight security for the first two-month-long annual pilgrim season since the Supreme Court allowed entry of women of all age to the hill shrine, tension gripped the Kochi International Airport 157 km away, where a stand-off ensued between protesters and Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai.
After the activist, who had vowed to enter the Lord Ayappa shrine, was prevented from leaving the airport in a siege that lasted almost 14 hours, Desai announced that she was returning to Pune citing “law and order” problems.
Meanwhile, the state government asserted that it was duty bound to implement the apex court order even as the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which met Friday at Pamba, decided to move a petition in the SC seeking more time to implement its order. “We have got legal advice favouring such a petition. The board will move the petition on Monday,’’ said board president and CPM leader A Padmakumar.
He said the petition would highlight the situation at Pamba after the recent flood, restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court’s empowered committee for infrastructure development and the recent protests over allowing young women entry. “The petition will not mention any time frame for delaying the implementation of the SC order,’’ he said.
Friday marked the beginning of the first annual pilgrim season, where lakhs of devotees from neighbouring states are expected to visit Sabarimala over two months. The state government has announced tight police security and stringent conditions for visiting devotees even as Opposition parties and Hindu groups prepare to oppose the entry of women of all age into the hill shrine.
No young woman turned up at the base stations of Pamba and Nilakkal though around 700 women have registered their names with police. The Travancore Devaswom Board also symbolically erased a warning board at Pamba against the entry of women aged between 10 and 50.
Early on Friday, Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai and six others from Pune were involved in a showdown with police, airport officials and protesting devotees. Desai could not leave the domestic terminal at the airport due to the protests and said she was leaving for Pune but would return unannounced later.
Desai had recently said she would visit Sabarimala on November 17 and had written to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan seeking police protection to trek to the temple. On landing at the Kochi airport at 4.45 am Friday, Desai and other six women were greeted with around 50 people chanting Ayappa keerthanams.
After daybreak, the crowd at the airport terminal swelled with hundreds of women joining the peaceful protest. BJP state general secretary K Surendran, who addressed the gathering, demanded the government send back Desai. Police and CISF personnel, manning security at the airport, did not intervene to disperse the protesters.
Desai’s request for a vehicle to proceed to Sabarimala was turned down by taxi drivers at the airport and police remained disinclined to provide transport but assured that they would escort her, provided she found a place to stay.
Despite repeated attempts by police and revenue officials, Desai stuck to her stand that she would not return without visiting Sabarimala. This triggered prayer meetings at several other temples in protest against Desai’s bid to visit Sabarimala.
As the protest of devotees continued at the airport, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said in Pamba that police have told Desai to go back citing the deteriorating law and order situation. “Desai has close links with BJP and Congress. If leaders of Congress and BJP request, she will go back,’’ he said.
After a 14-hour stand-off, Desai said at 7 pm that she would leave. “I am not going back due to the protest of the faithful, but respecting the request of the police. I will come back again to visit Sabarimala during this season without any advance notice,’’ she said.
As the temple opened in the evening, hundreds of pilgrims queued up before metal detectors at Pamba braving heavy rains, before trekking to the hill shrine.