Sabarimala temple reopens: Activist Trupti Desai to return to Pune as protesters don’t allow her to exit airport

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter being stranded at Kochi airport for over 10 hours, activist Trupti Desai, who wanted to enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple in defiance of a decades-old custom on women of menstrual age, said she has been asked by the police to return to her hometown Pune due to the law and order situation. The hilltop shrine opened at 5 pm today for a two-month-long puja in which lakhs of devotees and tourists are expected.

Hundreds of protesters have been blocking the airport gates since Trupti Desai landed early this morning. “Police is saying the protesters can enter the airport anytime and attack us. Entering the temple is our right but we have not come here to disrupt law and order. My team and I will now decide what to do next,” the activist told NDTV.

The protesters, who staunchly support the restrictions on women despite the Supreme Court ending the ban in a landmark order in September, say they won’t allow Desai and her six colleagues to step out of the airport. Taxi drivers say they will not take the visitors anywhere.

Officials of the Cochin International Airport Limited asked the state government to help end the impasse, saying operation at the airport was getting affected as a result of the chaos.

Trupti Desai had written to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the state police chief seeking protection to visit the shrine, where no woman has been allowed even after the Supreme Court ruling.

“I will go ahead come what may. I will not go back without the darshan of Lord Ayyappa,” Desai said, adding goons were out to block her and not devotees.

The state temple minister Kadakampally Surendran said Desai’s visit was a drama enacted by the BJP. He also said that her trip was sponsored by Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Ayyappa temple, has decided to approach the Supreme Court seeking more time to implement its verdict allowing women in the menstrual age to offer prayers at the Lord Ayyappa temple.

The decision was taken after discussion with legal experts and board members, TDB President A Padmakumar told reporters here, a day ahead of the commencement of the two-month long annual pilgrimage season.

“We want the pilgrimage to be peaceful,” Padmakumar said, adding that they will approach the court on Saturday or Monday as the temple opened for a 62-day long annual pilgrimage season, Mandala Pooja-Magaravilaku at 5 pm on Friday.

Traditionalists, who believe the presiding deity, Lord Ayyappa, is celibate, had opposed the court verdict and last month stopped dozen-odd women who tried to enter the temple.

No woman has been able to enter the hill shrine despite an army of security men accompanying them twice and the situation came to a head when the tantri or the supreme priest threatened to quit and shut the temple gates if any woman came anywhere near the sanctum sanctorum.

The Supreme Court has said it is open to revisiting its verdict to allow women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple. Five judges led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said on November 13 they would hold hear the review petitions in open court from January 22 but made it clear that its earlier judgment holds.

An all-party meeting called by Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to resolve the Sabarimala stand-off failed to make headway on Thursday with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staging a walkout.

Vijayan stood firm that he was “duty-bound” to implement the Supreme Court order allowing women of all ages entry into the temple. The annual Sabarimala pilgrimage season starts Friday.

(With agency inputs)