Nilackal/Pamba: The iron gates of Sabarimala temple opened on Wednesday for the first time since the Supreme Court allowed women of menstrual age to enter the shrine but by all indications none from the “banned” age group could make it to its hallowed precincts amid a welter of protests and violent clashes.
Women journalists were heckled, their vehicles smashed and young female Ayyappa devotees turned back as hordes of Hindu right activists besieged the road leading to the hill-top temple, abode to Lord Ayyappa, its eternally celibate deity.
Chaos and mayhem ruled supreme on the road leading from Nilackal, the gateway to the shrine, to Pamba in the foothills from where the devotees start the arduous trek to Sabarimala, as activists of Hindu fringe groups fought pitched battles with police, leaving many injured and bleeding.
Incensed over Kerala’s Left Front government's decision not to file a review plea against the Supreme Court’s September 28 landmark order, protesters pelted police with stones and the latter hit right back with vengeance wielding batons with telling effect, leaving many fallen and writhing in pain on the road.
Several protesters were seen being bundled into police vehicles, while siren blaring ambulances carried some to hospitals.
Tension prevailing in Nilackal since morning erupted into rowdyism as scores of activists of fringe groups heckled women journalists of at least four TV channels and vandalised their vehicles.
National TV showed protesters wearing black and saffron turbans running after their cars, violently pounding and kicking the vehicles in a bid to stop them from proceeding to Pamba from Nilackal on way to Sabarimala.
At least 10 people from the media were injured and equipment of several of them damaged, senior minister E P Jayarajan said. Denouncing the violence, the minister said that the cases were being registered against the suspects under sections relating to non-bailable offences.
Unfazed by the unfolding violence, Madhavi, a gutsy woman from Andhra Pradesh in her 40s, tried to climb the Sabarimala hills to reach the Lord Ayyappa temple but was forced to return to Pamba, menaced by agitated male devotees.
Liby, a woman from Kerala’s Alappuzha, also in the “banned” age group, was prevented from proceeding to Sabarimala at Pathanamthitta bus terminal. She was escorted to safety by police.
Both the Congress, the main opposition party in Kerala, and the BJP, which is desperately seeking to expand its footprint in the state, have lent support to the agitation against the Supreme Court verdict. State Congress working president K Sudhakaran led his party workers in a protest at Nilackal to express solidarity with Ayyappa devotees.