24-year-old Kavitha Jakkala, a Hyderabad based news anchor, became the first woman between the ages of 10 and 50 to reach near the sanctum sanctorum of Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. Another woman, identified as Rehana Fathima from Ernakulam, also joined Kavitha and her three-member crew. Though these two women, accompanied by Inspector General of Police S Sreejith and around 80 police personnel, had almost reached the sanctum sanctorum, the government made it clear that it was not right to hurt the sentiments of devotees and insisted that the women should not be allowed to enter, as they are activists and not devotees.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampalli Surendran informed the Director General of Police that the temple was not a place for activism and that it would be irresponsible for the police team to take the women further. "Two activists have reached near the temple, it is not possible for us to identify each person. The government's interest is to protect the interests of the devotees. Sabarimala is not a place for you to prove the power of your activism. I plead to all activists to not misuse the judgment like this. If true devotees come, the government is committed to taking them to the sannidhanam. The government is not responsible for providing security to activists," he said.
A group of devotees had staunchly protested against the women entering the temple. Though IG Sreejith, who had accompanied the two women, spoke to the crowd twice, he could not convince them to disperse.
“We must enact the SC’s judgement. Just like you are protesting for your rights, these women have come feeling they have rights and must exercise their rights. we are compelled to protect them as it is our job. I will consult with the government about whether this should go any further and come back and speak to you all. Until then please do not engage in any violence or violent protests here," he had said.
The government seems to have arrived at the decision keeping in mind two factors: The protests by devotees at the sannidhanam; and the fact that Rehana had made a controversial post a few days ago on social media which had created much anger.
The journey till the nadapandal
Kavitha and Rehna were surrounded by 80 policemen on their trek up to the temple. Inspector General Sreejith had promised them full police protection.
Kavitha, was clad in military fatigues and a helmet to protect herself from the crowd, that also had Hindutva activists, which has been staging violent protests for the past two days. She was accompanied by three other crew members from Mojo, including reporter Balakrishna and cameraperson Narasimha.
Rehana was seen in black attire and carrying an irumudikettu, or a two-layered parcel that all Ayyappa devotees carry mandatorily as offering to the deity.
There was a one-man protest against Kavitha and the police force by a devotee who was on his way down after offering his prayers who hurled a stone at them. The police were quick to shield the trekkers and avert any injuries to the women.
However, when the group reached the 'nadapandal' or the outer corridor entrance to the temple, a large crowd gathered there, many sitting and lying down on the ground. IG Sreejith then asked them to disperse making it clear that the police were there to implement the Supreme Court's orders.
“We are just here to do our job. We must enact and actualise the SC’s judgement. We, too, are Ayyappa devotees," he said, and the people gathered there started clapping, "but we have to carry out the SC's ruling. Please try to understand our standpoint,” he told the devotees who chanted 'swami sharanam'.
According to reports, Kavitha had reached Pamba on Thursday night and insisted on trekking up to the Sannithanam. However, police officers said that they will not be able to accompany her in the night, but promised full protection in the morning.
"Late last evening, she had reached a spot just 3 km from the temple. It was unsafe to go further. I asked her if she wishes to not do the darshan, she said she wanted to and she was brave enough for it," Revathy Pogadadanda, CEO of Mojo TV Telugu told TNM.
On Wednesday, NYT journalist Suhasini Raj had reached within a few kilometres of the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple but was, however, forced to turn around after an angry mob pushed her back and hurled abuses at her.
Suhasini was climbing the hill to report on the story and had made it up to Marakkoottam, which is only a few kilometres away from the sanctum sanctorum or the Sannidhanam of Sabarimala. However, a large group of protesters from the Ayyappa Dharma Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad at Appachimedu near Marakkoottam began shouting at her.
The police reportedly did offer to accompany Suhasini to Sannidhanam but Suhasini decided not to pursue the matter.