High tension in Kerala as Sabarimala temple gates open

Thiruvananthapuram / Chennai: Tensions are high in Kerala as Sabarimala temple gates were opened today to all devotees, including women, for the first time since a Supreme Court order overturned a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age – between 10 and 50 – from visiting the shrine.

Two women, one from Kerala and another from Andhra Pradesh, were among the first women to begin their trek to the Sabarimala temple on its opening day, but they were stopped by protesters on their way. They managed to walk only a few hundred metres.

Libi CS, the woman from Kerala, is a journalist and an atheist. Hours before her trek, she had announced her plan on Facebook to visit the Sabarimala temple. The protesters apparently saw her post and decided to block her the moment she started walking towards the temple.

“Friends, four of us are leaving to Sabarimala today, which includes atheists like me and two devotees,” she wrote on Facebook.

The police shielded her from a group of protesters who had surrounded her at Pamba, 4.6 km from Sabarimala.
Madhavi, the woman from Andhra Pradesh, and her family also had to abandon their trek to the hilltop temple after protesters blocked them.

She said some policemen had been escorting them for a few hundred metres, but left them on their own as they were getting closer to the temple. With children accompanying her crying on seeing the protesters, Madhavi said she had no choice but to turn back.

Tension prevailed this morning at Nilakkal, the main gateway to Sabarimala, after the police used force to disperse devotees opposing the entry of girls and women of menstrual age into the hill shrine. Acting tough, the police, deployed in large numbers in Nilackal, some 20 kms away from the Sabarimala hilltop, also removed a makeshift shelter erected by a protesting group Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti.

According to reports, stones were pelted at a vehicle carrying women devotees in Nilakkal but nobody was injured. The incident happened when protesters insisted on searching the vehicle but the police refused. In retaliation, they pelted stones and shattered the windshield of the vehicle.

After violence yesterday, some 1,000 police, including women, have been posted around Sabarimala and at the two base camps along the route.

Tribals living in the hills around Sabarimala alleged that the government and the Travancore Devaswom Board were trying to demolish centuries-old customs by allowing entry of women in the 10-50 age group into the famous Sabarimala temple. They claimed that restrictions imposed on women in the menstruating age group were part of a custom prevailing in tribal societies living in the forests in Kerala.
“The Devaswom Board has even taken control of tribal Gods and devasthanams in various hills around Sabarimala,” said 70-year-old V K Narayanan, chief of the forest-dwellers in the Attathodu area.


NT Bureau