As Sabarimala priests threaten to shut shrine, 2 women end historic climb

Pamba/New Delhi: Two women, who trekked towards Sabarimala temple with 300 policemen in riot gear on Friday morning, were stopped after the priests threatened the rituals will be terminated midway if they entered Lord Ayyappa’s shrine in the Western Ghats.

The women, including a journalist, had to turn back, when they were 500 metres from the 18 steps — the golden steps – that lead to the sanctum sanctorum of the famous shrine where no woman between 10 and 50 years has been allowed for centuries.

A dozen of priests reportedly blocked theses steps while chanting and clapping, in an attempt to restrict the women from entering into Kerala temple.

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned the ban on women of menstruating age entering the temple of Lord Ayyappa. But in the three days that Sabarimala has been open for the first time since the landmark order, no woman below 50 has made it to the shrine.

“I believe I’ve come here to enforce the Supreme Court order. Those women have the right to visit the temple,” said S Sreejith, the Inspector General of Police leading the police escort with the women. “I am also an Ayyappa devotee,” he told protesting devotees.

This historic mission became more challenging subsequently as the minister in charge of the Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, termed the women as activists and not devotees.

As per media reports, Devaswom Board minister Kadakampally Surendran has said that any genuine devotee who wants to go up will be given protection.

“But we will not allow activists to turn Sabarimala into a place to prove themselves,” Surendran was quoted as saying by NDTV.

The women in riot gear

  • Kavitha Jakkal, a journalist with Mojo TV from Hyderabad, started the climb in riot gear and a yellow helmet, ring-fenced from protesters by policemen.
  • The other woman, wearing black clothes and carrying the traditional prayer kit irumudikkettu offered to Lord Ayyappa, walked separately. Her house in Kochi was vandalised by protesting devotees.
  • Both started the 4.6-km climb from the base camp Pamba.

Protests by devotees in the last two days to block women from entering the temple led to violence and clashes at the base camps of Nilakkal and Pamba. Reporters were attacked, their vehicles damaged, and women who started the long climb forced to turn back amid threats and intimidation.

On Thursday morning, two journalists of the New York Times who tried to reach the temple had to return after protesters blocked their way.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said no one would be allowed to stop women from going to Sabarimala.