There weren’t too many people, around 1,000, according to estimates. But they were determined and unrelenting. As Bhumata Brigade’s Trupti Desai landed at the Cochin International Airport in the wee hours of Friday, equally determined to enter the Sabarimala temple, she was met with a strong crowd of devotees, members of Hindu right-wing groups and the BJP. Chants of Ayyappa rung the air, reaching feverish highs and electrifying the crowd into louder slogans.
Baffled passengers from other states and countries reached the terminal wondering why the normally peaceful Cochin airport was a loud theatre of chants, conch-blowing and aarti music. An old man asked security officers what this was all about, and after he was explained to, he looked in Trupti’s direction, slapped his forehead in disdain and walked on. Ayyappa devotees (men) dressed in black deboarding the aircraft with the irumudikettu on their heads, even as Trupti and her aides were stuck inside the arrival lounge, made for a stark irony.
Through the morning, as leaders of the BJP and Hindu Aikya Vedike spoke to the crowds and the press, vehemently stating that they will not allow Trupti to step out of the airport, let alone go to Sabarimala, protesters were careful to mention in media interviews that they were there for ‘peaceful’ protests. Activist and the President of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena, Rahul Easwar, too emphasised in a tweet that they were protesting peacefully. But the implication was clear to the police and Trupti – it was a serious security challenge for her to step out of the airport.
Outside the arrival area, where hundreds of devotees and protesters were gathered, a middle-aged couple spoke to The News Minute. The Kurups had come all the way to the airport only to protest. The husband, holding a placard stating, ‘Trupti, you are wrong this time’ in loud red letters, said, “I am here to put pressure on Trupti to leave the state and not create a riot-like situation here. I want people across the country to understand. This is about our faith.”
His wife, a devotee who was ‘ready to wait’, said that there was no threat to Trupti’s life. “Even if there is, it’s her own doing. She should not have come,” she said calmly, adding that all of them are here to protest peacefully.
In Trupti, the protesters found a strong adversary. Until late in the morning, she and her aides, who were holed up at the airport amidst tight security, told the media over the phone that they will not return unless they go to Sabarimala. She was adamant that the government provide her protection and transport. “The police tried to evacuate us from another gate but the protesters were there as well. Does this mean protesters are scared that we'll reach Sabarimala once we reach Nilakkal or are they trying to scare us? We will not return until we offer prayers at Sabarimala,” she said in a video message posted online.
Just after noon, it seemed to be becoming clear that she might not be able to complete her mission.
Earlier in the morning, the cab unions had thrown their hands up and said they won’t provide transport for her to travel. When police officers started telling media that they were absolutely ready to provide her protection, but were under no obligation to provide transport and accommodation in the state, their strategy seemed to become clear. Who else was going to give them a ride to Sabarimala at the risk of their lives, and of what use is security if there wasn’t any transport to begin with?
Around noon, news started coming in that the Aluva Tahsildar and key members of the government had communicated to Trupti Desai that her life was under serious threat and that she should leave. They were reportedly asked to take the next flight to Pune which left at 1.20 pm.
Meanwhile, leftist spindoctors had also started creating the narrative online that Desai was an RSS plant sent to destabilise the state, possibly providing cover to the government in their decision to not support Trupti all the way through to Sabarimala.
After a 15-hour-long wait at the airport, Trupti Desai decided to give in. She had been adamant for a long time, telling the police that she did not wish to return without offering prayers at Sabarimala, but she and her six companions will depart for Mumbai by a 9.30 pm Air India flight after the Kerala police managed to convince her that it was futile to wait and her exit could lead to mob violence and a law and order situation.
Trupti addressed the media at around 7 pm and said, “I am sad to say that these protesters who call themselves Ayyappa devotees resorted to abuses and threats, they cannot be real Ayyappa devotees. The protests could have been held at Pamba or Nilakkal but they chose to protest at Kochi airport itself. This shows that the protesters are scared of us and we have managed to scare them just from Kochi airport.”
"By protesting at airport, they've proved that they're afraid of Trupti Desai and team. This is our victory," she said.
The gates of the Sabarimala temple opened for the third time this year after the September 28 verdict which allowed women of all ages entry into the temple. The gates will remain open for two months and Trupti told the media that she will return during this period to attempt the climb again.
“We will return and when we return, we will not announce my visit. We will return with guerrilla tactics,” Trupti said.