Vandalism and violence as Indian temple prepares to accept women

Sabarimala temple
Sabarimala temple

Hindu traditionalists on Wednesday (17) attacked female media persons near Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala while trying to prevent women of menstrual age from entering the time.

Protesters claiming to be devotees of Lord Ayyappa attacked female journalists reporting from Sabarimala as its gates opened for monthly rituals.

Although the state government had deployed hundreds of police officials at Pamba, Nilakkal and Erumeli, three important landmarks on the route to Sabarimala, protesters pelted stones at the vehicles of media personnel.

Journalists of many media organisations were heckled and their vehicles were vandalised.

Saritha Balan, a journalist from an online publication The News Minute, was harassed by protesters while accompanying devotees trying to access the site. Pooja Prasanna, a journalist with the Republic TV, and her crew were reportedly attacked by a mob of more than 100 men en route Sabarimala.

According to AFP, a 45-year old woman named Madhavi gave up her attempt to enter the temple for the first time after activists prevented her from climbing the hill. This is despite police officials promising her protection. A family of four from Andhra Pradesh that had a woman devotee was also prevented from reaching the temple.

According to reports, a total of 30 people have been arrested in Pamba in connection with protests against the entry of women to the hilltop temple.

“Anyone who wants to go to the temple will be able to do so without hindrance,” police chief Manoj Abraham was quoted as saying by AFP.

“Stern action will be taken against anyone who prevents devotees from going to Sabarimala,” Kerala’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Tuesday (16).

Biju S Pillai, a man in his 30s, was one of those opposed to the court ruling, and he told AFP that he returned from UAE to “protect the sanctity of the temple.”

“No one should be able to change the way this temple has functioned for centuries,” he said. “If any change is made they will have to kill us and go over our bodies.”

Women chant hymns during a protest called by various Hindu organisations against the lifting of ban by the supreme court that allowed entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala temple, on the outskirts of Kochi, India, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

The Sabarimala temple has been at the centre of a row ever since India’s supreme court last month overturned a ban on all females of menstruating age from entering and the temple.

Although Kerala’s Communist government vowed to uphold the court’s decision, several rightwing groups, including the Shiv Sena, a former ally of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, opposed women’s entry saying the prohibition on women of menstrual age entering was required to please Lord Ayyappa, considered eternally celibate by followers.

The Sabarimala chief priest, Kandararu Maheshwararu Tantri, had warned that “anger could easily escalate into violence if a few egotistical women try to enter”.

“I say ego because no devotee who has faith in Sabarimala will try to break the 2,100-year-old rule… Moreover, there are other Ayyappa temples women can visit,” the Times of India quoted him as saying.

He claims that the “positive energy” in a temple can be polluted by menstruating women.

The Sabarimala Samrakshana Samithi has declared a 24-hour-hartal against the chief minister’s decision to implement the supreme court verdict.