Selvi Mano, the woman who lead the group says that Kerala police leaked information about their trip, harassed them and staged the chasing scene at Sabarimala.

Kerala police leaked our plans didnt want us to enter Sabarimala Manithi alleges
news Sabarimala Monday, December 24, 2018 - 19:14

Even as the eleven women from Chennai who attempted to enter the Sabarimala shrine in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala were turned away, the group alleges that while the police forces cared for their lives, they failed to protect their constitutional rights. Activist and lawyer Selvi, who has been communicating with the media, on behalf of the women’s rights group Manithi, is disappointed that women devotees in the group were unable to exercise their constitutional rights. However, she believes that a meeting with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to explain the intentions of the group, would help clear the air on the backlash that the group has faced.

Excerpts from a telephonic conversation with Selvi of the Manithi group:

You reached Pamba in the wee hours of Sunday but you didn’t begin the journey towards the temple until 9 am. Why?

If the police had wanted to, they could have taken us at 4 am itself. We had reached at 3: 30 am and finished all the rituals. There were 30 protesters, the police said. We don't know if this is true or not, but police couldn't handle 30 people?

We were not even allowed to move for the first couple of hours. If the police had wanted to, they could have made sure we entered the temple. But they did not wish to.

Later, the protesters who had gathered only loudly chanted ayyappa sharanam. They did not harm us or attack us. But the police showed a signal and started running so everyone started running and there was a lot of chaos. This was the reason to turn us away.

Video of the women running along with police

You had initially planned to take the train to Kottayam. But your group split and routes changed last minute. Why?

Kerala police insisted that we not take a train since protesters were to gather at the Kottayam railway station. Our supporters in Kerala told us to take a train and not a private vehicle since a private vehicle can easily be stopped. We discussed and thought this through but unfortunately, our train tickets didn’t get confirmed. By then police had leaked information saying we are taking general compartment.

So we informed the Tamil Nadu police and the Kerala police and left for Sabarimala via Madurai. Kerala police escorted us from Madurai but I would say we were in custody in the name of providing protection.

One group left from Madurai and the other from Coimbatore to Ernakulam. The police deliberately ensured that we did not meet the other group at Pamba. The only thing the police wanted to do was push us back into Tamil Nadu border since they had given us an assurance over email.

What did you think of security arrangements by the Kerala police?

Ours was a private vehicle, patrol vans- three jeeps in front, two at the back- came with us. Their aim is to ensure no danger to our life but not to protect our rights. We have basic rights to conduct press conference and meet the Chief Minister but this was denied to us.

We were not given food, water or even allowed to pass urine. They told us we should have brought our own food, it is not their duty but they wouldn’t allow us to go buy food, citing security reasons. They tried brainwashing each one of us saying they have pictures of our children, addresses of our homes, etc. It is only when they realised that even the women devotees among us are strong that they decided to stage a drama and turn us away.

Following your attempt to enter Sabarimala, many have dug up your Facebook posts. They have pointed out that you are a Leftist and have put up posts in support of Zakir Naik, criticizing you for them. How do you respond to this?

Already people have a low opinion of women. If they create the impression that Leftists and those with a Dravidar Kazhagam background are trying to break a tradition, then even those sympathetic to our cause will be turned away, right? That’s why they are taking Facebook posts and saying that we are trying to break Ayyappa. Their intention is not to allow women. They want to make it look as though Islamic, Christian, Leftist, and atheists are breaking a Hindu tradition. This is a strategy to divert attention from the issue of inequality.

Many have said that you don't believe in God and so you should not have tried going to the temple. How do you see this?

We have repeatedly said that Manithi is a group where there are theists and atheists. We are not here to debate the merits of believing or not believing in God. I cannot go to each individual and talk about their belief system. We had said that 90 percent of the group are devotees who wanted to have a darshan of Ayyappa. Our intention was to ensure that they were able to do this, so we went as supporters. The basis of our support to the women devotees is that they have to overcome this internal colonialism where feel they are inferior to men. It is their birth right to enter the temple.

You had told us that you would meet the Chief Minister if your entry to Sabarimala was denied. What happened?

Three of our group members wanted to meet the Chief Minister. The police told us that they would take us to the Chief Minister’s office but they took them to railway station and tried to make them board a train back to Chennai. The women refused and they were forced to sit in the retiree room at the railway station. The police told them that there was a protest at the Thiruvananthapuram railway station. Following this, they made them board a train with police escort. The police leaked information to others on which coach and compartment the women were in. The women are telling us that they had eggs and stones thrown at them along the way.

The police department and the intelligence department have given the government wrong information that we are Naxals and that we are actually secretly working for the BJP and the RSS to foment trouble in the state. This is wrong. A chance to meet the Chief Minister would help us explain who we are. The Chief Minister relies on the police and the intelligence for information. We came as supporters. We are not Naxals. We are not being propped by the BJP or RSS. We are opposed to their ideologies - it is backward for women’s rights.

We still believe the women devotees amongst us can enter Sabarimala if we meet the Chief Minister. Breaking social taboos is also way of ensuring women’s safety through claiming our rights.

Read: Sabarimala through the ages: How a small hill shrine became a popular pilgrimage site

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