More protests erupted against the entry of young women to the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple on Thursday, as a state-wide shutdown led to road blockades and attacks on buses. Six members of the BJP-affiliated Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha were arrested for protesting at the base camp of Nilakkal, defying prohibitory orders in place in the area.
Suhasini Raj, a New York Times journalist based in New Delhi, was forced to terminate her trek to the shrine after a group of protesters confronted her near Marakkoottam. Police registered a case based on her complaint. The Supreme Court’s September 28 order which allowed women of all ages entry to Sabarimala has set off protests by devotees who maintain that the entry of women of menstruating age undermines the deity, a naishtika brahmachari (celibate).
The face-off between the ruling CPM and Sangh Parivar outfits remained intense. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan took on the BJP-RSS for hiring “criminal gangs” to destroy peace in Sabarimala while BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai called for a probe into “police excesses” during clashes at Nilakkal on Wednesday. Security was tightened around Nilakkal after the BJP announced a protest in the area.
In Pathanamthitta, about 50 km from the base camp, the shutdown was total. Residents of the town said it was unfortunate that the Malayalam month of thulam – monthly pujas commenced at Sabarimala on Thursday – was being ushered in with a hartal, amid protests and strife. Aggressive protesters chased media vehicles at Mannarkulanji near Pathanamthitta. The shutdown hit pilgrims’ movement in the Adoor-Pathanamthitta region in the morning.
KSRTC buses were damaged in attacks in Kozhikode district. Transport Minister A K Saseendran said 32 buses were attacked in different parts of the state. Road blockades were reported from Ernakulam and Idukki districts. Two policemen were injured in clashes in Malappuram district.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran released to the media an audio clip which has a man, claiming to be a pro-Hindutva outfit leader, asking people to dress like pilgrims and assemble at Nilakkal. Pinarayi Vijayan urged devotees to see through the designs of Sangh Parivar to disrupt peace at the hill shrine. “The RSS’ agenda is to destroy the unique, inclusive core of Sabarimala and replace it with a centre of upper-caste fanaticism,” Pinarayi Vijayan said.
The Sabarimala temple will close on October 22 after the monthly pujas. The annual mandalam pilgrimage season at the shrine commences on November 16. On Thursday, V N Vasudevan Namboothiri was appointed the new melsanthi (chief priest) of Sabarimala. A Palakkad native, he is at present the chief priest at the Sri Ayyappa Temple in Jalahalli, in Bengaluru.