Tension was palpable in the southern state since Tuesday, when crucial talks held in the capital Thiruvananthapuram among the tantri (supreme priest of Sabarimala), the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam (considered the custodians of the temple) and Travancore Devaswom Board, or TDB ,(responsible for the administration of the temple), could not reach a solution.
On a day marked by protests,scuffles and stone-throwing, troublemakers ignored police warnings and ran riot in Nilakkal and Pamba, two important sites where devotees gather before trekking to Sabarimala temple in the Western Ghats.
The doors to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple opened on Wednesday for the first time since the Supreme Court three weeks ago allowed women of all ages to enter the hilltop shrine, but female devotees were halted by a wall of resistance mounted by traditionalists who tuned them away, intimidated journalists and clashed with the police.
Leading television channels “NDTV , NEWS18 , REPUBLIC ” and media portal “NEWSMINUTE ” reported that goons targeted women journalists and attacked the vehicles of their crews.
Women reporters of two national TV channels were stopped in Pamba by a violent crowd, which was seen banging on their cars. Television footage showed policemen chasing protesters away through dense forests near Nilakkal.
“Police were forced to intervene when some protesters started attacking media personnel,” said district collector PB Nooh, stressing that the administration will make sure the pilgrimage was not affected. State industry minister EP Jayarajan said those who attacked journalists will be arrested.
Policemen deployed in strategic areas did not seem to be a deterrent to the hundreds of protesters, who damaged at least 10 buses.
Twelve people were arrested and 15 hospitalised with injuries suffered during the clashes, the police said. Fearing a flare-up, the district administration imposed restrictions prohibiting the gathering of more than four people under Section 144 of CrPC in trouble-hit areas, including Nilakkal and Pamba.
The police had to jostle with protesters to take a 45-year-old devotee from Andhra Pradesh, identified as Madhavi, to safety after she was intercepted by a group of men. She was forced to return to Pamba.
A young woman from Kerala’s Alappuzha,identified as Liby, was stopped at the Pathanamthitta bus terminal.
“When democracy and the Supreme Court order are being defied by protesters, I have come with the firm intent of visiting Sabarimala,” Libi, told the media.
The apex court had opened the doors of Sabarimala to women of all ages in a 4-1 judgment on September 28, annulling the age-old tradition of the temple to deny the right of worship to women aged between 10 and 50 years.
Rahul Eswar, who is leading a campaign against the entry of women of all ages into Sabarimala, and some of his family members were arrested in Pamba after they staged a demonstration. “The government is trying to stifle a peaceful protest,” said Eswar, the grandson of the main priest of Sabarimala.
Sabarimala Samrakshana Samity, an umbrella organisation of several outfits protesting against the court order, called a day-long shutdown across the state on Thursday to protest against Wednesday’s police action.
No one will be allowed to take the law into their hands and strict action will be initiated gainst troublemakers, state police chief Loknath Behra said, reiterating Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s stand that the state was committed to implementing the Supreme Court’s order.