Sabarimala's Ayyappa temple opens amidst tight security

Updated: Nov 17, 2019, 07:17 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Women not to get special protection unless under specific orders of the courts.

Members of Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam hold placards during a protest against the Supreme Court's order revoking the ban on the entry of women aged between 10 to 50 years inside Ayyapa temple. Pic /AFP
Members of Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam hold placards during a protest against the Supreme Court's order revoking the ban on the entry of women aged between 10 to 50 years inside Ayyapa temple. Pic /AFP

On Saturday at 5 pm, the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala threw its doors open for the two-month pilgrim season. On Thursday, the Supreme Court had referred the case to a larger bench to re-examine whether women could be kept out of the temple. However, it did not stay its earlier verdict that allowed women between the ages of 10 and 50 to visit it.

Unlike last year, when the Government of Kerala provided women devotees with police protection to reach the temple, it isn't in any hurry to intervene. However, it has directed the state police machinery to be extra vigilant and ensure law and order in the state is maintained. Simultaneously, the government has also sought clarity from the State Advocate General's office on the issue.

Officials attached to the Chief Minister's office said: "The apex court verdict of September 28, 2018, is at present under judicial scrutiny. The matter will come up before the larger bench that'll re-examine this verdict. We have sought clarity from Advocate General of Kerala Sudhakar Prasad to understand whether the earlier order is operatable. If need be, we may even approach the Attorney General KK Venugopal seeking clarity."

Advocate General Prasad declined to comment.

The source further clarified: "The police is not obliged to provide any security or escort women worshippers unless the women worshippers get a specific court order from a competent court with jurisdiction on the matter."

Leader of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (ADS) Rahul Easwar told mid-day: "We admit that there is a grey area on the standing of verdict. But two out of the three Supreme Court judges have ruled in favour of referring the review plea to a larger bench. We see this as a favourable step for us. We will continue to request young women to respect the sentiments of the devotees and refrain from visiting Sabarimala. We will continue our Jallikattu Model and Pallikattu protest peacefully. The Kerala government and the police have been supportive and we have ensured that there won't be a law and order issue."

Easwar said that the ADS has reached out to Christian, Muslim and Zoroastrian community groups from other states to form a joint front to plead that "our fundamental right as given under Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) isn't violated."

Meanwhile, Trupti Desai, Pune-based activist and founder of Bhumata Brigade, plans on visiting the temple armed with last year's Supreme Court order. Four members of the Bhumata Brigade will accompany Desai who plans to leave for Kochi between November 20 and 27.

"We have booked a one-way air ticket to Kochi," she told mid-day. "Last time, Kerala Police stopped us at Kochi airport for almost 13 hours. They told us 30 to 40 people would commit suicide if we didn't return. We don't intend to return from the airport this time."

Desai added that not implementing a Supreme Court order would set a bad precedent. However, she also assured that they had no intention of disrupting the law and order situation.

"I will be writing to Pinarayi Vijayan and to Amit Shah before leaving. Should anything untoward happen to us during our visit, it will be the responsibility of the Kerala Government," she said.

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