Two women devotees, who were stopped by protesters while trekking to Sabarimala on Monday, retreated to the base camp in Pamba after one of them fainted, Malayala Manorama reported. The women were 500 metres away from the temple when they turned back.
Their attempt to enter the shrine came a day after 11 women were forced to return without darshan at the temple due to protests by devotees.
The two women, Bindu from Kozhikode and Kanakadurga from Malappuram, had reached Pamba at 3:30am on Monday before beginning their trek to the shrine, Manorama reported.
Escorted by the police, they reached Marakootam, about a kilometer from the the temple, where they waited for more police personnel to accompany them.
The women were earlier stopped at Appachimedu, a place en route Sabarimala, by protesters, who were later removed by police.
Kanakadurga, who fainted after complaining of uneasiness, agreed to return. However, Bindu staged a sit-in protest, before she was taken to Marakoottam by the police. She later complained that the police had forced her to return.
On their journey to Sabarimala, the women had said they would not turn back even if they were attacked, NDTV reported.
“We are here to seek ‘darshan’ (offer prayers) of Lord Ayyappa. The Supreme Court order must be enforced and hope, police will provide us security,” Bindu told media while on the way to the shrine.
On their return, protesters followed the women back to Pamba. PTI reports protesters from the BJP had also gathered outside the women’s homes in Kozhikode and Malappuram.
Manithi team’s attempt met with protests
The Sabarimala foothills had on Sunday witnessed high drama as hundreds of devotees blocked paths and chased away a group of 11 women, members of the Chennai-based outfit ‘Maniti’, being escorted to the hill shrine by the police.
Though the police team tried to arrest and remove a few of the devotees who blocked the traditional forest path and take the women members forward, hundreds of pilgrims rushed down to the valley to chase them away.
Defying prohibitory orders, hundreds of devotees thronged the forest path in Pamba blocking the way of the women, who reached in the early hours from Chennai.
The women could barely move 100 metres through the traditional path towards the temple, and had to virtually run from the scene to the safety of a nearby guardroom, abandoning the trekking plan.
Police tried to remove the protesters by force as they were not ready to budge despite their repeated announcements to disperse and end the namajapa (chanting sacred hymns) protest.
Repeated talks by the police with the women, who sat on the road for over six hours, also failed as they insisted on climbing the hill to have darshan at the shrine.
‘Manithi’ coordinator Selvi said in Pamba that more members of the outfit were on their way to Sabarimala and the 11 women were only the first batch. Selvi said women also have the right to pray at the temple and that they would not return without darshan.
“Police is asking us to go back in view of protests. But, we won’t go back without darshan. We will wait here till we are allowed to trek climb the hills, she told reporters.
As the Pandalam royal family, attached to the Ayyappa temple, and the opposition BJP accused the government of taking the “activist women” with police protection, Devaswom Minister, Kadakampally Surendran said they would act according to directives of the high court-appointed monitoring panel.
“We hope that that the high court appointed three-member panel will look into the matter and take a suitable decision in this regard. The government will act according to that, Kadakampally Surendran told reporters.
However, BJP leader K Surendran alleged that the arrival of women was “well-planned” and the CPI-M led LDF government was behind the move.
The BJP and other right-wing activists staged namajapa protests across the state including before the Cliff House, the official residence of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in Thiruvananthapuram.
On Sunday, a Kerala-based Dalit activist, Ammini also announced her decision to trek Sabarimala. She said in Kottayam that if the protesters blocked her, she would stage an indefinite hunger strike at Pamba, on the foothills of Sabarimala.
Women, in the age group of 10-50 years, are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. But the Supreme Court, through its September 28 landmark verdict, has lifted the curb and permitted women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple.
Anxiety had loomed large in and around Sabarimala Temple for some days as ‘Manithi’ had declared last week that a group of 50 women, all below the traditionally barred age of 50 years, would visit the shrine.
Selvy had told a Malayalam TV channel that the group comprised women from different states, including Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka besides Kerala.
She had also said they had already written to the office of Kerala Chief Minister and informed him about their plan to trek to the hill temple.
Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala Temple since the Kerala government decided to implement the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court permitting women of all age groups there.
Over a dozen women have so far made unsuccessful attempts to trek the holy hills.
Four transgender women, who were earlier stopped from proceeding towards the Lord Ayyappa temple citing security reasons, offered prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security earlier this week.
The Kerala High Court earlier this month appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season.
(With inputs from PTI)