Kerala prepares for era of women at Sabarimala temple

High power committee set to ensure “all facilities for women” at the hill shrine

Thiruvananthapuram: Three days after India’s Supreme Court struck down the traditional ban on women entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, the state government has begun plans for arranging facilities for women at the shrine.

Sabarimala had been a male preserve, and tradition prevented women between the ages of 10 and 50 from visiting the temple on the ground that their menstrual cycle would defile the temple and would not be appreciated by the deity, Ayyappa. The court ruled against such a tradition coming in the way of gender equality.

A high power committee that met under the chairmanship of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan decided to ensure “all facilities for women” at the hill shrine.

The Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the temple, had earlier said that it was a tall challenge to make special facilities for women at the temple, considering that it was already difficult to manage the all-male crowd that descended on the temple every pilgrim season that begins in November.

Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said on Monday that special facilities would be provided for women devotees at Nilackal, Pamba, Erumely and all important stop points on the route to the shrine. Women-friendly toilets would also be provided on the route from Pamba to the temple.

Anticipating increased numbers of pilgrims in the coming pilgrimage season, it has also been decided to expand the capacity of the base camp for pilgrims at Nilackal from 6,000 to 10,000 pilgrims.

Another feature will be additional bus services from Nilackal to Pamba, in which 25 per cent seats would be reserved for women.

It has also been decided to have no special queue for women, and also to restrict the number of pilgrims climbing up the 18 steps at the temple to 100,000 each day.

Despite the apex court verdict, there is scepticism about the number of women who are likely to undertake the pilgrimage. Most women interviewed by media have expressed their disagreement with the court’s observation.

However, the state government is going ahead with preparations for women pilgrims so that they are not inconvenienced.

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