Scuffles break out at Sabarimala temple town over entry of menstrual age women

Nilakkal: Hundreds of police guarded the main gateway to Sabarimala temple on Wednesday to prevent clashes between women of menstrual age entering for the first time in centuries and conservative Hindu groups out to stop them.

The temple in the southern state of Kerala has been the cause of tension since India’s top court ruled last month that banning some women from entering infringed on freedom to worship.

The hardline Hindu groups, that include Shiv Sena, a former ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, say the prohibition on women of menstrual age entering is required to appease the temple’s chief deity, Ayyappan, depicted as a god considered eternally celibate by followers.

Police said on Wednesday around 500 police, including 100 women, have been deployed at Nilakkal, the gateway to the temple around 18 km from the site, where many of the protests have been taking place.

“Nobody will be allowed to prevent anybody. We will do everything possible to implement the law of the land,” said Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham. “None will be allowed to take law into their hands.” But some female worshippers were prevented from proceeding to the temple site on Wednesday.

Inspector general of police Manoj Abraham (center left) speaks to the media as a protest against the Inspector general of police Manoj Abraham (center left) speaks to the media as a protest against the Supreme Court verdict revoking a ban on women’s entry to Sabarimalatemple takes place in Nilakkal on October 17, 2018. AFP

A lone woman travelling to Sabarimala by bus was stopped at the bus stand near the gateway by a group of protesters. The woman, identified as Libi, came from the neighbouring district of Alappuzha.

“When democracy and the Supreme Court order are being defied by protesters, I have come with the firm intent of visiting Sabarimala,” Libi.

“I am not scared. The police are providing full security. I have come alone,” she said, adding she was ready to face trouble.

Police have registered cases against more than 50 people in connection with the incident, media reports said.

A family of four from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state, including at least one woman, were shielded by police carrying sticks after protesters shouting slogans prevented them from reaching the temple.

Earlier, the protesters stopped two women state government health officials who had come to take part in a routine meeting at the temple.

The women both medical doctors were allowed to go in only after they showed proof that they were above age 50.

Policemen contain devotees and activist during a protest against the Supreme Court verdict revoking Policemen contain devotees and activist during a protest in Nilakkal on October 17, 2018. AFP

Protesters also shooed away a few women police constables who were trying to go to areas of the temple town.

“We warn the officials that they should not try to create problems and we express our strong resentment in the way our people who are protecting the rights of the temple was chased away by the police. We women will not sit idle,” said firebrand senior BJP women leader Shoba Surendran to the media at Nilackal.

Six time independent legislator P.C.George, under whose constituency Poonjar lies, which is nearby to the temple town said that he will see that no traditions of the temple is broken.

CPI-M legislator Raju Abraham under whose constituency the Sabarimala temple comes said that all wish and want there should be nothing that disturbs the peace of the temple town.

Overnight, police cleared hundreds of protesters from a site in Nilakkal and said no new protesters would be allowed to gather near the temple. There were at least six arrests, with a group of three arrested in connection with an assault on a woman and her husband from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.

None will be stopped from going to Sabarimala: Police chief

Loknath BehraMeanwhile, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra (pictured) on Wednesday said no one will be stopped from going to Sabarimala.

“There is a very strong police presence in and around Sabarimala,” Behra told the media here as a police force of over 1,000 personnel took position in Nilackal and Pamba — the foothills of the famed Lord Ayyappa temple.

“None would be stopped nor would anyone be allowed to take law into their hands. Sabarimala is safe and anyone can come and pray,” the police chief added.

Pilgrims have for centuries visited the Sabarimala temple, in a remote tiger reserve in the Western Ghats mountain range.

Many of those visiting the site take a vow of celibacy for 41 days before beginning a trek through the mountains to the temple, located around 3,000 feet above sea level, according to the temple’s website.

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