The plan had been announced days in advance. Women activists and devotees who headed for Sabarimala from different states would reach Kottayam on the morning of December 23 and travel together to the Ayyappa temple. But then the plan changed, with 11 women taking many by surprise when they reached Pamba at around 4am on Sunday, skipping Kottayam altogether. The road route they took from Madurai was altered many times to defy the protests which BJP and other right wing organisations had organised to stop their journey to Sabarimala. The protestors who are against the SC verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the shrine, would like to maintain the previous ban on women of menstruating age, 10 to 50.
It's unclear if the women who reached Pamba on Sunday morning had strategically announced one plan and went ahead with another, in order to divert the attention of protesting groups. Selvi heading the Tamil Nadu based group Manithi which is organising this little pilgrimage has been unreachable since Saturday night. At 8pm on Saturday, she had said the plan had not changed, and they would just be a little late to reach Kottayam.
Originally, the plan was that nine women from Chennai, four from Madurai would arrive in Kottayam on Sunday morning and would be joined by women devotees from Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and other states. A source says it was expected that 45 women, including devotees from Kerala, would come to Kottayam railway station and take a bus to Pamba. The Kerala police had an intelligence report on the same, the source says.
However, on the eve of their journey, the women came together in Madurai and in a private vehicle took a route through Theni, Selam and Kambam. They had to skip Kumili owing to protestors gathering there. The Tamil Nadu police is believed to have escorted the women till Kerala. Three policemen from Kerala had reportedly accompanied the women but the police are denying this.
The group then arrived in Kattapana where again there were protests against the women's planned entry to Sabarimala. Somehow the team then passed through Peerimedu from where they could either go to Kottayam or take the route through Erumeni to reach Pamba. They chose the latter as protesters had as expected marched towards Kottayam railway station. The police were, however, ready and stopped about 60 to 75 of the protestors at Logos junction, near the railway station, and sent them away.
Upto Pamba, the journey has been smartly planned, even if it might have been circumstances that led to spontaneous changes in plan. But after that, the story seems to be a repetition of what has been happening since the verdict came. The women arrived, the protestors turned up to block their entry into Sabarimala while the police attempt to give them a safe passage to the temple.
Itâ€™s unclear what delayed the women, who reached Pamba before 4 am, from proceeding to the temple. But even as they waited with the police, protesters turned up in large numbers. It appears the women are in talks with the police to climb the hill. More women are expected to join the 11-member group. They are determined to see Ayyappa and not go away even as the police are reportedly discouraging them from making the trek.
In the past several women have been turned away with officials claiming they are activists and not devotees and that Sabarimala is not the place to prove a point. But Selvi and team had made it clear that these were devotees coming. The activists among them were only coming for moral support and would stop at the final 18 sacred steps to climb to the shrine. Six of the 11 women who reached Pamba are devotees and they have packed the traditional irumudi kettu - twin bags of pilgrimage. This was not easy since nobody was ready to fill their bags and the eldest among them - 53-year-old Kala - had to do it.
Despite the planning, it appears their efforts may go futile, as the government has passed the buck to the Sabarimala monitoring committee set up by the court. The committee in turn has said they cannot decide on whether it's safe to let women enter. With protesters increasing in the number by the minute, this group of women too are likely to go back without visiting the shrine.