Four days after the doors of the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district, Kerala opened following the September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court allowing women of all ages to enter, a sixth women arrived at Pamba, attempting to enter the temple on Saturday. However, she was told that no police protection will be provided to her until a background check is completed to determine if she was an ‘activist.’
SP Manju, the 38-year-old State Secretary of the Kerala Dalit Mahila Federation is from Chathannoor, Karunagappally. It is learnt that she arrived at Pamba, on the way to temple, seeking police protection around 1 pm on Saturday afternoon. She was taken to the CCTV control room in Pamba, where top police officials, including ADGP Anil Kanth, Inspector Generals of Police Sreejith and Manoj Abraham, conferred.
Sporting the accoutrements of Ayyappa devotees, including the irumudi kettu (the traditional prayer kit carried on the head by devotees), Manju was first reportedly requested by the police to turn away on account of the tense situation prevailing in the area.
Security concerns are acute since the temple is seeing the highest number of devotees visiting on this rainy Saturday, as compared to the other days the temple has been open since the verdict thus far. Devotees are currently making their way up to attend the evening rituals at the temple. But when Manju insisted and told the police that she was a devotee, the police officers went into a huddle.
Emerging after a meeting with Manju that lasted for more than an hour, speaking to media persons, Inspector General of Police S Sreejith said that a final call on whether to provide police protection to Manju would be announced on Sunday morning following a background verification.
“Because of the rain, we have decided to go tomorrow only, we are also doing her background verification,” he said.
When asked the reason why they were not taking Manju up on Saturday, Sreejith said, "Can't you see the rain? There is such heavy rain, it is very slippery and water is flowing downwards. It would be difficult for her to climb, and difficult for us to take her. That's not all, we enquired at Sannidhanam there are already enough devotees there to climb [up to the shrine] till around 6.30. We have told her tomorrow morning, and she has agreed. We are conducting her background verification. According to that, we will announce a decision tomorrow.”
It is being reported that there are as many as 12 criminal cases pending against Manju, including ones registered for taking part in protests. She was a CPI (M) member once and then joined the Congress, even contesting on a Congress ticket for local polls.
Though there is no link between having criminal cases pending, the SC's order and the right to ascend the Sabarimala, Kerala police is reluctant to provide security to someone with criminal cases files pending against them.
Saturday's developemts provoked strong reactions for and against Manju's entry into the shrine on social media
Background check of #Manju, by Kerala Police is discriminatory and unacceptable. Make it compulsory for all who want to go to Sabarimala or none. Why single her out only because she is a woman.— N.S. Madhavan (@NSMlive) October 20, 2018
Manju is at the verge of making history for having a chance to enter #Sabarimala temple, although huge odds are stacked against her. I called Kerala Dalit Federation state president P Ramabhadran to enquire her background. This is what he has to say:— Nidheesh M K (@mknid) October 20, 2018
Now it is Congress's turn to violate Sabarimala's age-old tradition. #Hellbound Congress woman leader Manju trying to enter Ayyappa shrine. Tension continues to mount on the sacred mountain top. pic.twitter.com/AChH2enjeN— J Nandakumar (@kumarnandaj) October 20, 2018
So activists, journalists and people with criminal cases are not allowed in Sabarimala. Police deny security cover to Dalit activist Manju.— Rajaneesh (@vilakudy) October 20, 2018
#manju recorded with 15 police cases (as per media houses) may be provided full police protection to trek #Sabarimala! @RahulEaswar is denied bail and put behind the bar for attempting to protect his rights as a devotee! Conflicting scenarios! #TempleForDevotee @ndtv— sarathchandran (@scshenoy) October 20, 2018
SP Manju the 38 year old Congress worker and state leader of the party led Kerala Dalit Federation now on her way to Sabarimala would be making history if she is able to worship at the forest shrine. #sabarimalawomenentry pic.twitter.com/rA8mybwmka— N.Madhavan Kutty (@nandeilath) October 20, 2018
Early on Friday, two women tried to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple. 24-year-old journalist Kavitha Jakkala, a Hyderabad-based news anchor, along with a three-member crew, and Rehana Fathima from Ernakulam were accompanied by Inspector General Sreejith and 80 policemen. However, they were stopped 500 metres away from the 18 steps leading to the temple.
Following this, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran informed the Director General of Police that the women should not be allowed to enter, since they are activists and not devotees.
The priests staged a sit-in protest at the Nadapanthal area of the temple, along with protesters, refusing to accept the verdict. They threatened to close the temple gates if 'traditions are ignored.'
(With inputs from Sharanya Gopinathan and Manasa Rao)