Kerala: Tight security in Sabarimala as Lord Ayyappa temple opens Monday for special puja

Police said 2,300 personnel, including a 20-member commando team and 100 women, have been deployed to ensure smooth ‘darshan‘ and security of devotees.

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Updated: Nov 05, 2018, 00:02 AM IST

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A thick security blanket on Sunday was ensured by the police and orders banning assembly of four or more people were imposed at Kerala‘s Sabarimala and the nearby areas, a day ahead of the opening of the Lord Ayyappa temple for a special puja.

Violent protests were witnessed in October against the verdict of the Supreme Court allowing entry of women of menstrual age into the holy shrine. This is the second time the hill temple will open for ‘darshan‘ after the Supreme Court allowed entry of women of all age groups into it.

Police said 2,300 personnel, including a 20-member commando team and 100 women, have been deployed to ensure smooth ‘darshan‘ and security of devotees, a move that came in for criticism from the erstwhile royal family of Pandalam, the BJP and the Congress for such fortification.

If necessary, around 30 women police personnel in the rank of circle inspector and sub inspector and above the age of 50 would be deployed at ‘Sannidhanam‘ (temple complex) for security, they said.

Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPc, banning assembly of four or more people, is in force at Pamba, Nilackal, Elavungal, and Sannidhanam for 72 hours from midnight Saturday.

The pilgrims will be allowed to go up the pathway only on Monday afternoon, an official said. The shrine will open at 5 pm Monday for the “Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal” special puja slated for the next day, marking the birthday of last king of Travancore Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, and close at 10 pm on that day.

Tantri Kandararu Rajeevaru and chief priest Unnikrishnan Namboodiri will jointly open the temple doors and light the lamp at the ‘Sreekovil‘ (sanctum sanctorum). All the roads leading from Nilackal to the base camp of the temple town Pamba are barricaded and have been declared out of bounds till Monday morning by the police.

The police are checking each and every vehicle that passes in and around the temple town. On Sunday, after protests, the police allowed the media to travel till Nilackal.

The police said that it has not received a request from any woman (age groups 10-50) for security assistance in order to visit the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.

The temple had witnessed high drama in October following frenzied protests leading to around a dozen women in the age group of 10-50 being prevented from reaching it and police and the agitators fighting a pitched battle over the LDF government‘s decision to implement the court order.

Dismissing reports that media was being restrained from going to Sabarimala, Kerala Director General of Police Loknath Behara said there was no bar on entry of journalists. No restriction of any sort has been imposed on media persons, he said. “To ensure necessary protection to the media, we are not allowing them now. As soon as security arrangements are complete, media will be allowed in Sabarimala and nearby places.”

During October‘s pujas, media persons were attacked by a section of protesters and police had to face criticism.

The Sabarimala Karma Samiti, a platform of right-wing outfits, including VHP, appealed to media houses not to depute women journalists in the menstrual age group to cover the developments in Sabarimala. In its letter to editors, a copy of which was released to the media, it said even the entry of women journalists belonging to this age group as part of their job was also likely to aggravate the situation.

The Samiti alleged that even though the Supreme Court has decided to hear the review and writ petitions on the issue on November 13, the state government was intentionally ignoring the “mass movement” against the judgment and was trying to “hastily” enforce it using police force. “In such a situation, the devotees are left with no other choice but to continue with the peaceful agitation,” it said.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullapally Ramachandran said the situation in Sabarimala was “explosive” and accused the CPI(M)-led LDF government of failure to handle it. 

BJP leader M T Ramesh said if police tried to hinder devotees from visiting Sabarimala, it would lead to “serious repercussions”. Ramesh warned the police against examining the holy kit (Irrumudi Kettu) that is carried on the head by the pilgrims.

At least 12 women had made a vain attempt to reach the shrine of Lord Ayyappa, a celibate, after the Supreme Court permitted women in the 10-50 age group to offer prayers there. So far, 3,731 people have been arrested and 545 cases registered in connection with last month‘s violence.

BJP and various Hindu outfits are on a warpath against the Left-front government over its decision not to seek a review of the apex court verdict. 

Former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that there appeared to be some shady goings on as the media had never before been banned into the temple town. “If the media is kept away, then the authorities want to hide something,” he said.

State Congress President Mulapally Ramachandran said, “Parties like CPI, academics, intelligentsia and socio-cultural icons should prevail upon (Chief Minister Pinarayi) Vijayan to see that he handles this very sensitive issue in a more mature way.” 

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