Tension prevailed on Thursday a day after the opening of the short five-day pilgrimage season as the state observed a shutdown against the alleged police attack on protesters even as a senior member of the Sabarimala priest’s family urged women of the hitherto barred age group to respect tradition and not visit the Lord Ayyappa temple.
While on Wednesday a couple of women devotees were prevented from undertaking the trek to the hill temple and some women journalists were stopped from proceeding with their coverage amidst violence by activists of Hindu groups affiliated to the BJP and RSS, no women devotee of the ages that have been allowed darshan by the Supreme Court turned up on the day.
On Thursday morning, Suhasini Raj, who works as the India reporter for The New York Times, along with her colleague, a foreign national, managed to go past the Pamba gateway but was stopped midway by angry devotees who erected a human wall before her.
“I had reached half way, and then the protests grew stronger. I was hit by a stone, and then we decided to return. The police had provided us with all the security,” said Raj, who had earlier pointed out that she came to do her job to speak to devotees.
Pathanamthitta District Collector P.B. Nooh told the media on Thursday afternoon that Section 144 was in force and would be there till Friday midnight. Police would provide security to any woman who wished to go and pray, he said.
Of the 30 protesters, who was arrested on Wednesday, 20 were produced before the Magistrate Court in Ranni near here. They were remanded to two weeks judicial custody. The arrested activists included a member of the Tantri family, Rahul Eashwar.
A dawn-to-dusk shutdown backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party was called against Wednesday’s police attack on protesters who were opposing the entry of women within the age group of 10-50 years to the Lord Ayyappa shrine.
At a few places in Kozhikode, Malappuram and here, protesters stoned buses of the Kerala State Road Transport Corp following which their operation was suspended.
On the occasion of Mahanavami, all state and central government offices, banks and educational institutions were closed.
Shops and markets also remained shut. There was poor attendance at the IT park here and in Kochi. Railway commuters faced the brunt of the shutdown as they failed to get taxis and public vehicles from the stations.
Speaking to the media at the temple premise, Chief Priest Kantararu Rajeevaru said: “We have the highest regards for women. And those who otherwise come to pray at the temple are treated with utmost respect.
“We always respect the law of the land, but in the wake of the apex court’s ruling, we humbly request women that they should not try to break the tradition of this hallowed temple.”
He said it was most unfortunate that there had been a wrong campaign that if any woman in the hitherto banned age group entered the temple, he would close the temple.
“I have never ever said such a thing. We all wish and want that the Sabarimala temple is not turned into a conflict zone as there are lakhs and lakhs of devotees of this temple all over the world.”
The temple opened on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the first time after the September 28 Supreme Court ruling allowing entry of women aged between 10 and 50.
As part of the convention, the temple opens for five days on the first of every Malayalam month. It will now be open till October 22.
Strong protests were witnessed on Wednesday as political and religious groups turned out in large numbers. Some protesters opposed to the entry of women in the 10-50 age group clashed with police and heckled women journalists.
Some demonstrators and police engaged in stone throwing, leading to a lathi charge on the protesters.
On account of the violence, the Pathanamthitta district collector has clamped Section 144 in around 30 sq km around the temple.
State BJP chief P.S. Sreedharan Pillai on Thursday said all this happened because of the Left government.
“We condemn the violence that took place there, and we will bring this to the attention of the Centre. This is outrageous.
“We have decided to intensify our protest. From today, till October 22, every day at 11.30 a.m., 41 Yuva Morcha activists will break Section 144 and will get arrested,” he said.
Vijayan, now in the UAE, wrote in his Facebook post that the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were trying to turn the hallowed temple into a conflict zone.
“The devotees of the temple should realise this ploy, but the state government is determined to thwart all such attempts and would deal with the situation in the appropriate manner,” said Vijayan.
Meanwhile, the Kerala Police on Thursday warned of tough action against all those who spread canards on the social media about Sabarimala in the present situation.