As the Sabarimala shrine opened, Padmavati, who was visiting from Andhra Pradesh with 18 relatives, was stopped by women police officers as she began her trek from Pambha base camp to the hill shrine. She was told her entry will pose problems and persuaded to return.
Spending some time at the police camp, she came back to her vehicle leaving others to trek to the temple. In tears, she said she did not expect such a fate. “I was told the court lifted all restrictions on women. When I told police officers this, they had no answer,” she said. She is one among the five devotees who were sent back citing their age.
Earlier this week, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had referred a clutch of petitions seeking a review of its Sabarimala order last year that paved the way for the entry of women of all ages into the shrine to a larger seven-judge bench by a majority 3:2 ruling.
“I thought these restrictions were gone with last year’s verdict of the Supreme Court. It is sad that police who are supposed to give protection are dissuading us. But I don’t want any trouble due to this,” said another woman devotee in her forties who did not want to be named.
Watch: Sabarimala Temple in Kerala opens amid tight security
Three others hailing from Telangana said they were on a religious trip covering all shrines of south India and not aware of the temple customs that women in the age-group of 10-50 years are unwelcome.
Amid teeming devotees, women police officers are keeping a strict eye to weed out possible entry of women belonging to the child-bearing age. They are asking women devotees to show documents to prove their age. When questioned by HT, the police officers had no answers. “We are simply following orders of our superiors,” a woman inspector said.
The government’s U-turn has angered reformists and women activists. “It is sad that police are back to same old tactics. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there is no stay on its 2018 verdict. How can they prevent women like this? It seems the government is bowing before trouble-makers and some zealots,” said Bindhu Ammini, one of the two women who made it to the temple last year. She said she will move the court citing this.
Activist and Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Deasi, who has announced her plan to trek to the temple, criticised the government’s about turn. “How can the state temple affairs minister say police won’t give protection to women who want to worship at the shrine? The state is bound to go by the 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court. It is the state’s responsibility to give protection to women,” she said. When she came to visit the temple in 2018, she was not allowed to come out of the Cochin International airport.
“It was shocking to hear a minister saying the government will not provide protection to women if they worship at the temple. The SC has made it clear it did not stay its earlier verdict. It seems the government backtracked,” said Renaissance Movement leader Punnala Sreekumar. The movement had formed a women chain last year across the state against the traditionalists’ move to hijack the temple issue. Many legal experts said temple affairs minister Kadamapally Surendran’s statement was a fit case for contempt.
The Kerala government has made it clear that it would not provide security to any woman of menstruating age visiting the shrine, as per Devaswom Board Minister K Surendran.
“The state government will not provide protection to any woman visiting the temple. Those who need protection should get an order from the Supreme Court,” Surendran said on Friday.
Amid confusion, the CPI(M) said it will discuss the issue in detail and release a statement on Monday.