Sabarimala: Frenzied crowds nearly lynched a women devotee, suspecting her to be young, as a diffident police let the RSS strongman from Kannur, Mr Valsan Thillenkery, to restore peace at the Sabarimala Ayyappa shrine during the second day of Chithira atta tirunal on Tuesday.
Mr Thillenkery’s back-to-the-deity posture as he tried to rein the agitators, many of them his own cadre, triggered a controversy as he was found at the 18 holy steps without the customary “irumudikettu”.
Travancore Devaswom Board member K. P. Sankaradas who criticized Mr Thillenkery’s unholy act was soon accused of committing the same sacrilege the previous morning.
The police, which had claimed foolproof arrangements for crowd control and protection for young women in line with the latest SC verdict, found itself in a predicament, unable to check crowds, menacingly accosting the devotee from Thrissur, Ms Lalitha, aged 52, who had arrived along with family members for her grandson’s ceremonial rice-feeding at the sannidhanam.
The assorted crowd of Ayyappa devotees, including agitators, grew restive as the police accompanied Ms Lalitha and the rest of the family members, past the nadapanthal towards the sannidhanam. The police had verified her Aadhaar card for proof of age. But the crowds suspected she was less than 50 and sought to verify her by themselves.
But by mistake, she produced a different Aadhaar card, not having her details.
There were shouts from all sides as the police proceeded to the sannidhanam. The agitators attacked Mr Lalitha’s niece, who was seen later complaining to the police. The police then rechecked her age proof and convinced the crowd. Later, some of the agitators themselves escorted Ms Lalitha to the sannidhanam .
It was at this time that Mr Thillenkery, who was at the sannidhanam, came down and tried to calm the crowds. He made a brief address through the megaphone as a cop in riot gear stood by holding the loudspeaker:
“We are here as devotees. But some others have come along to create trouble. Do not fall into their trap. We should strive for a peaceful darshan. Help those people in the right age group to worship. We have arrangements to filter out those within the barred age group, right from Pampa. The police is here, our volunteers are here. Nobody can breach the arrangement. Tradition won’t be breached.”
“Do not become unnecessarily emotional. Some people, bent on converting Sabarimala into a riot zone, might want an incident to happen today. Would you want to fall into their trap? Be clam and ensure you alight the steps in peace. Remain calm; we will summon you all should such a situation arise. But it is bad for us that I have to say this repeatedly”.
Once the brief address was over, the crowds withdrew, though in full readiness to pounce back if summoned by Mr Thillenkery, who by now seemed to be the chief police coordinator at the sannidhanam.
State police chief Loknath Behera has sought a report from IG Thrissur-range M. R. Ajith Kumar, who was in charge of the security at Sannidhanam, on the circumstances in which Mr Thillenkery's help was sought by the police.
More embarrassing to the police and the government was that Mr Thillenkery even said over the police megaphone that the entry of women in the10-50 age group would be prevented. The police looked askance as he made this defiant call. Though the police often seeks the help of persons who can influence a violent mob to control it, Sabarimala on Tuesday was a shame to the police force, which had converted the stretch from Nilakkal-Pampa to the sanctum sanctorum a virtual fortress.
"Even the Chief Minister himself had labelled the RSS and Sangh parivar leaders as extremists and with dubious intentions. Hence the police seeking the help of such people for controlling a mob is a surrender," sources in the police maintained.
However, chief minister's private secretary M .V. Jayarajan sought to justify it. "The priority of the police was to avoid use of force at the holy place and that could be the reason that the RSS leader was allowed to address the violent people using the police microphone," he told DC. He also added that Mr Thillankery's nexus with the violent mob could be exposed with Tuesday's incidents.
The police arrangements at Sabarimala had gone awry right from Nilakkal on Monday. The police had planned to send pilgrims in batches of only 50 each from Nilakkal to Pampa by KSRTC bus. The bus service was also planned to be regulated with time gaps to ensure sufficient interval between each group. But this plan failed with devotees staging protest at Nilakkal on Monday and even deciding to walk towards Pampa. Later police was forced to lift the regulation on KSRTC bus schedule.
The police plans to restrict long stay of devotees at Sannidhanam also misfired as even prominent RSS leaders could stay put at the Sannidhanam. Avoiding the use of force as the justification for police “inaction” seems to be a poor alibi for failure.
Mr Valsan Thillenkery admitted he unintentionally breached the custom by climbing the holy steps with the traditional irumudikettu,. "but I hope Ayyappa would forgive me". Later, tantri Kandararu Rajivaru confirmed it was a breach....