Sabarimala face-off: 11 women wait at shrine’s base camp amid protests

Pamba, Kerala: Tension prevailed at Pamba, the foothills of the Lord Ayyappa Temple in Kerala, on Sunday morning as a group of 11 women below the age of 50 years, tried to trek the hilltop shrine. Protests have intensified at Pamba against the group of women. The protesters say they will not allow these women to reach the hilltop temple. The women have told the police that they will not return without darshan (offering prayers).

The women who have reached Pamba are part of a 50-member group from several states including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Odisha who will try to enter the shrine together. Over a dozen women who tried to enter the shrine separately had to abort their attempt after facing stiff protests.

“A total of 11 women have arrived. But only six of them want to trek to Sabarimala and the others say they came only to provide protection to them. We are awaiting instructions from senior officials,” a police officer at Pamba was quoted as saying in media reports.

Several other women appear to be heading towards Pamba in different groups with a clear strategy to give no room for protesters to block them on the uphill trek.

“We are strategically moving. There are many Dalit women also who are reaching Sabarimala for darshan today. The state and the police have to show enough will to ensure that we can have our rights. We all have taken the required fast (for the darshan),” one of the women said.

Selvi, coordinator of Manithi, a Chennai-based women empowerment group that’s helping the united efforts of the women to reach the temple, had reportedly told that they were “real devotees” who were following the Sabarimala rituals. “Since we are a larger group, we hope we would be able to enter Sabarimala. Most of us are between 20 and 30 years old,” she had said. “A few women believe what’s the guarantee we would live to above 50 to worship here later? Swamy Ayyappa will protect us.”

Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala Temple since the Kerala government decided to implement the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court permitting women of all age groups there.

Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful attempts to trek the holy hills.

Four transwomen, who were earlier stopped from proceeding towards the Lord Ayyappa temple citing security reasons, offered prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security earlier this week.

The Kerala High Court earlier this month appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season.