**Sabarimala: ** A group of 11 Tamil women devotees who wanted to perform a Sabarimala darshan on Sunday were forced to leave after protests turned violent and police took two dozen protesters into custody.
Led by Selvie, an activist belonging to the Maniti Women’s group in Tamil Nadu, the women from the hitherto banned age group were forced to leave Pamba for Madurai after Ayyappa devotees chased them away from ascending the hill.
The women aged between 10-50 years had reached Pamba town at 5.30 a.m. and were seen squatting for hours till 11 a.m., demanding police protection to ascend the hill.
But traditional Ayyappa devotees also held fort and did not allow them the ascend.
Reaching the base town at dawn, the group was parked on one side of the pathway leading to the temple while the protesters chanted slogans on he other side, determined not to allow passage to the women to go up.
They kept sloganeering and menacingly approached the group threatening them to go away. It was then around 11.30 a.m. that Kerala Police was forced to take over 20 protesters into custody.
Immediately there was an outrage as hundreds of the others protesting came rushing down the pathway forcing the police and the Tamil women to flee to safety.
The group was sheltered inside a police vehicle near Pamba as Superintendent of Police Karthikeyan explained the situation to Selvie’s group.
“They have decided to return to Madurai and we will give them security for their return,” Karthikeyan told the media at 12.40 p.m.
Earlier, around 10 a.m., Selvie told the media that since the protests have increased, if the police tells us that we are unable to go, then we will return.
“But we will come back later and also seek legal help. We came after the Kerala government had assured us entry to pray at the temple,” Selvie said as the protests around her mounted.
Later, after Karthikeyan told the media about the Tamil women’s decision to return to Madurai, Selvie said: “The police have forcefully asked us to return and hence we are going back.”
At day break, the group was adamant to pray and Selvie had said: “We will not go back without praying at the temple. The police should ensure protection to us to pray.”
They had faced the first hurdle when priests here refused to take part in the ritual that every Sabarimala pilgrim undergoes when they prepare the holy kit that is carried on the pilgrims’ head.
The women then had to prepare their own holy kits.
Sabarimala has been witnessing protests ever since September.
Before Selvie’s group, around two dozen other women have already tried and failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple even after the top court’s verdict on September 28 allowing women of all ages to enter the temple.
“We will give our lives to protect the customs and traditions of the Sabarimala temple. Under no circumstances will these women be allowed to go up the hill,” an angry devotee said on Sunday, as hundreds of others echoed the same.
The present two-month-long pilgrim season began on November 16 and compared to the previous ones has seen an uneasy calm. The number of pilgrims has dwindled drastically and temple revenues have also dipped.
State Minister for Devasoms (Temples) Kadakampally Surendran told the media that the final decision on Sabarimala issue rests with the Kerala High Court-appointed three member committee.
As for the Committee, they have said that they were only concerned with the facilities for the pilgrims and was in no way concerned with the issue of women and such decisions have to be taken by the Travancore Devasom Board (custodian of the Sabarimala temple) and the police.
Spokesman of the Pandalam Royal family — the custodians of the Sabarimala temple jewellery, P.S. Varma said: “Things have been quiet in the temple town. It was only now with the arrival of this Tamil group that things have heated up.
“One naturally has to suspect that there has been some sort of a conspiracy with the arrival of this group of women. One has to suspect if these women are real devotees.
“What is even more baffling is this has happened when important rituals attached to the temple ahead of the Mandalam puja have started today.”
Activists belonging to the Sabarimala Karma Samithi were on a sit-in protest outside the official residence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.