Sabarimala: Two women forced to abandon trek after protesters block path

Two women in their 30s — Reshma Nishanth and Shanila Rajesh from Kunoor — en route to Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala were forced to turn back by protesters near Neelimala on Wednesday morning. This comes just days after two others became the first to offer prayers at the shrine in centuries. Reshma Nishanth and Shanila Sajesh, covered almost half of the 5.5-kilometre trek to the temple but were intercepted by angry devotees in the morning.

Dressed in men’s clothes, they left early in the morning to dodge protesters and started trekking at 5am, and they said they came after police promised protection.

They managed to trek for some time but were identified and encircled by the protesters as they walked up. Police then arrested five of the protesters and the women continued trekking for some time.

They were stopped in Neelimala as large numbers of protesters lay on the path leading to the temple to stop them from going further. The drama continued for two hours and police removed them forcibly.

Police pleaded helplessness as the situation turned tense, saying it was beyond their control and took the women to Pambha, the base camp, after they were blocked.

Five persons who had blocked the women have been arrested. The women were taken to safety at the base camp in Pamba by the police in a vehicle. They are part of a nine-member group who were on their way to the temple. They said they had already completed their 41-day penance before embarking on the trek.

Activist Rahul Easwaran backed the protesters who stopped the women who tried to “intrude into #Sabarimala”.

State’s temple minister Kadakampally Surendran said preventing the women, was “really deplorable”. Surendran also said that the government did not want to create a scene so police took utmost restraint in handling the protesters.

“We don’t need any certificate from Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi whose party is on a mission to annihilate people in the name of the cow,” said the minister.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on Kerala government on its handling of the Sabarimala controversy, saying the Communists didn’t respect India’s culture and spiritual traditions. He also slammed the Congress for taking multiple stands on the issue.

Modi hit out at the state government led by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the opposition, and said both the fronts were two sides of the same coin. “We know that the Communists do not respect India’s culture, history, and spirituality,” Modi said at a public meeting in Kollam.

The Supreme Court in September last year allowed women of all ages to worship Lord Ayyappa at the Sabarimala shrine, overturning a traditional ban on women of menstrual age (between 10 and 50) from entering the temple.

On January 2, two women in their 40s became the first to worship at the shrine on Wednesday, triggering unrest in many parts of Kerala. One of them, Kanaka Durga, was attacked by her mother-in-law on her return home on Monday. She was admitted in a hospital at Perinthalmanna in Malappuram district.