Bengaluru: Protesters and police in Kerala are poised for a face-off on Monday as the Sabarimala hill shrine opens doors to devotees. While the former have vowed to stop women of menstruating age from reaching the Ayyappa temple, 3,000 cops stationed on the way will attempt to ensure a Supreme Court verdict that permitted their entry is upheld.
Kerala braces for protests over Sabarimala again
Chaos prevailed the last time the temple opened in October, when protesters clashed with the police and women journalists were attacked. Despite police escort, at least 12 women who attempted to enter the temple had to turn back, facing fierce resistance. The police have so far arrested about 3,000 people seen indulging in violence.
On Monday, the temple will reopen at 5pm for 24 hours to perform a monthly ritual.
On 28 September, the Supreme Court ordered that a prevailing ban on women aged 10-50 entering the temple was unconstitutional, violative of gender rights and gender equality.
“We are sending some 3,000 men from Thiruvananthapuram city alone to the Sannidhanam (the sanctorum). Likewise, people will be sent from other cities also. If any woman tries to enter, these men will confront it,” a top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state leader said, requesting anonymity.
Top party leaders have been given charge of agitations across Kerala, and the party’s state president Sreedharan Pillai will lead one in Pathanamthitta district, the leader mentioned above said. Devotional chants will be performed across the state featuring a lot of women, he added. “If anything goes wrong, we will hit the streets across Kerala,” he said.
A senior police officer said on condition of anonymity that 2,200 police officers will be on duty on way to Sabarimala, besides 700 at the shrine itself, including women officers above the age ban. About 700 additional police personnel will be deployed near the sanctum itself, he said.
Sabarimala Karma Samiti, one of the non-political agitating outfits, urged media houses not to send women reporters to Sabarimala. S.J.R. Kumar, general convener of the outfit, said that would only aggravate the situation.
“We are more concerned (than the last time) about the security, and the security of the media. Last time, we got a lot of criticism because the media got attacked. Therefore, whatever we are doing, it is in the interest of the media and other people, and we will help them,” he told local television reporters.
Raju Abraham, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and legislator from the neighbouring Ranni assembly constituency, said the security measures are in line with government efforts to maintain peace. “Rioters are not allowed inside Sabarimala, but devotees are welcome,” he said.
According to the BJP leader mentioned earlier, party leader Pillai will meet state governor P. Sathasivam on Monday evening to “discuss the brutal ways in which the state is turning Sabarimala into a battleground”. Pillai was unavailable for comment, but he told television reporters that the state is witnessing its “biggest repression”.
“This is the biggest repression the state has ever seen. It is like the Emergency-era when the Communists themselves were hounded by the state for holding agitations. This atheist left-front is on a mission to destroy Hindu temples,” he said.