No woman devotee at Sabarimala temple for second day (Roundup)
Sabarimala (Kerala) : Women of the ages hitherto barred from entering the famed Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala stayed away for a second day on Thursday following uneasy calm in Kerala amid a dawn-to-dusk shutdown called by outfits owing loyalty to Hindu groups and the BJP.
Tension prevailed on Thursday a day after the opening of the short five-day pilgrimage season in the wake of the protest shutdown against the alleged police attack on protesters on Wednesday even as a senior member of the Sabarimala priest's family urged women from the 10-50 age group to respect tradition and not visit the Lord Ayyappa shrine.
While on Wednesday a couple of women devotees were prevented from undertaking the trek to the hill temple and some women journalists were stopped from proceeding with their coverage amidst violence by activists of Hindu groups affiliated to the BJP and RSS, no women devotee of the ages that have been allowed darshan by the Supreme Court turned up on Thursday.
At the end of the day, A. Padmakumar, President of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), the custodian of the temple, told the media they were ready to go to any extent to resolve the issue.
"Tomorrow we are having a meeting and we wish to ask if the protests will be called off if we decide to file a review petitition against the Supreme Court verdict (allowing women of all ages)?" asked Padmakumar, also a senior CPI-M leader.
On Thursday morning, Suhasini Raj, who works as the India reporter for The New York Times, along with a foreign national colleague, managed to go past the Pamba gateway but was stopped midway by angry devotees who erected a human wall before her.
"I had reached half way and then the protests grew stronger. I was hit by a stone and then we decided to return. The police had provided us all the security," said Raj, who had earlier pointed out that she came to do her job to speak to devotees.
Pathanamthitta District Collector P.B. Nooh told the media on Thursday afternoon that Section 144 was in force and would be there till Friday midnight. Police would provide security to any woman who wished to go and pray, he said.
Of the 30 protesters arrested on Wednesday, 20 were produced before the Magistrate Court in Ranni near here and remanded to two weeks judicial custody. The arrested activists included a member of the Tantri family, Rahul Eashwar.
The state-wide shutdown called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi on Thursday was largely peaceful in Kerala and saw only a few private vehicles ply on the roads.
Stray incidents of protesters pelting stones on state-run buses in some parts of Kozhikode, Malappuram and Thiruvanathapuram were reported, prompting the Kerala State Road Transport Corp to suspend operations.
Protesters attacked some shops that were open in the state capital. Most shops and markets, however, remained shut. There was poor attendance at the IT parks here and in Kochi.
Thursday's shutdown call coincided with a holiday that saw state and central government offices, banks and educational institutions shut.
Railway passengers were worst hit as they failed to get taxis and public vehicles from the stations.
Speaking to the media at the temple premises, Chief Priest Kantararu Rajeevaru said: "We have the highest regards for women. And those who otherwise come to pray at the temple are treated with utmost respect.
"We always respect the law of the land but in the wake of the apex court's ruling, we humbly request women that they should not try to break the tradition of this hallowed temple."
The temple opened on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the first time after the September 28 Supreme Court ruling allowing entry of women aged between 10 and 50.
As part of the convention, the temple opens for five days on the first of every Malayalam month. It will now be open till October 22.
On account of the Wednesday violence that saw demonstrators and police clash, the Pathanamthitta district authorities clamped Section 144 in around 30 sq km around the temple.
State BJP chief P.S. Sreedharan Pillai blamed the Left government for the unrest.
"This is outrageous," he said. "We have decided to intensify our protest. From today, till October 22, every day at 11.30 a.m., 41 Yuva Morcha activists will break Section 144 and will get arrested."
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, now in the UAE, wrote in his Facebook post that the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were trying to turn the hallowed temple into a conflict zone.
"The devotees of the temple should realise this ploy but the state government is determined to thwart all such attempts and would deal with the situation in the appropriate manner," he said.