This even as the protesters succeeded in ensuring that the Supreme Court verdict allowing women aged between 10 and 50 to pray at Sabarimala still remains on paper almost 40 days after the order though the shrine has opened twice for as many as eight days. No woman in this age group could reach the sanctum on Tuesday despite heavy police bandobast with Sabarimala turning into a virtual cantonment. The temple opens again for the annual two-month pilgrimage season on November 17. On November 13, the SC will be hearing review petitions regarding its verdict.
Following rumours on Tuesday morning that a woman below 50 had arrived for darshan, scores of protesters planted themselves on the 18 “holy steps” leading to the temple, raising fists and shouting slogans even as RSS leader Valsan Thillenkery, using a police megaphone, exhorted them to maintain peace. None of them was carrying
irumudi (the traditional cloth bundle containing votive offerings), which is a violation of the custom. Only devotees carrying
irumudi are allowed to ascend the holy steps, and they have to do so as quickly as possible.
Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) member Sankar Das also violated the tradition by climbing the holy steps without an
irumudi later in the day. Asked about the incident, the Sabarimala tanthri said if tradition has been violated, special purification rituals would have to be conducted.
Later on Tuesday, Thillenkery told a TV news channel that he and his supporters had indeed violated Sabarimala’s sacred custom and that special rituals were conducted as recompense. Explaining the context, he told reporters: “As leaders, we have the responsibility to avoid any kind of untoward incident. That’s why I addressed the devotees standing on the holy steps. It was to help police.”
Throughout Tuesday, ignoring prohibitory orders, protesters belonging to several right-wing organisations and the Sangh Parivar had a complete run of Sannidhanam (area around the sanctum), with police remaining spectators despite massive strength.
Trouble first erupted around 6.30am when Lalitha Ravi, a Thrissur resident, arrived at the temple with relatives to conduct
choroonu (first rice-feeding ceremony) of her six-month-old granddaughter. The protesters, not convinced that she was above 50, blocked her way. Minor scuffles broke out as policemen escorting her tried to force their way through. Eventually, police convinced leaders of the protesters that she was actually 52 and showed them her Aadhaar card, after which the protesters themselves helped Lalitha have an unobstructed darshan.
Lalitha was also given first-aid at a hospital at Sannidhanam after which she was taken to the police station to record her statement. Based on her statement, an FIR has been filed against 200 unnamed persons. SP P K Madhu, in charge of security at Sannidhanam, said police will examine CCTV footage to identify the culprits. The 200 men have been accused of rioting, unlawful assembly, protest against the Supreme Court verdict, attempt to murder and assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.
In the morning scuffle, several mediapersons too were roughed up by protesters. At Pamba, women reporters of two news channels had to face tense moments as some protesters mistook them for pilgrims.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said “certain people” were trying to destroy the peaceful atmosphere in Sabarimala. “They are trying to prevent devotees arriving there for darshan. Real devotees and society will identify such forces,” he told reporters in Kozhikode.