The Pamba police station witnessed a flurry of activities on Monday when Anju, a 30-year-old woman from Cherthala in Alappuzha district, turned up at around 6 pm, requesting police protection to go to the Sabarimala temple. However, she later withdrew her request and informed the police that she was not looking to visit the shrine. And thus, by the end of November 5, no woman between the ages of 10 and 50 entered the Sabarimala temple when its gates opened for a special one-day puja.
â€śWe would have given her protection if she had asked for it,â€ť Rahul Nair, Superintendent of Police of Pathanamthitta district, told reporters. However, Anju later admitted that she had come to Pamba under pressure from her husband Abilash, who was adamant that their entire family, including their children of the ages 4 and 7, undertake the pilgrimage.
Pamba and Nilakkal, the two checkpoints closest to Sabarimala, as well as the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine were turned into a fortress by the police and were also under the watchful eyes of thousands of male devotees, on Monday. The temple was opened for the Sree Chitra Atta Thirunal puja at 5 pm.
The doors of the temple were opened on Monday for the first time since the violent protests that marred the five-day pooja starting on October 17. The protests were surrounding the Supreme Court's decision in September to allow women of all ages into the temple. Several women devotees and journalists were heckled and forced to turn back by right-wing protestors, who were standing guard along the way.
On Monday, the Kerala state police made it clear that they will allow only devotees and media personnel with ID cards into the temple. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the IPC were in place around the temple and will go on till Tuesday night when the doors of the temple will close again. Around 1,500 police personnel each was posted in Nilakkal, Pamba and the Sabarimala temple on Monday.
However, the intense security measures taken by the police to prevent a breakdown of the law and order appeared to irk devotees, who turned up in huge numbers at the temple. â€śMany of us took the bus from Thiruvananthapuram to Pamba but the police asked us to get down at Nilakkal because we were not carrying our identity cards. This has not happened beforeâ€ť said Vishnu, a devotee from Thiruvananthapuram.
According to observers, the number of devotees for the annual Sree Chitra Atta Thirunal puja was the highest in recent years.
Among the devotees entering the temple were BJP leader MT Ramesh and president of Ayyappa Dharma Sena Rahul Easwar, who entered the temple complex in the evening. â€śWe apologise for what happened last time around. If there is any feminist activist trying to enter the temple today, we will speak to her in a Gandhian manner and request her to respect our feelings,â€ť Rahul Easwar said. MT Ramesh, meanwhile, said, â€śThe BJP is the only party to stand with devotees.â€ť
However, both Ramesh and Easwar refused to comment on the video and audio released by Malayalam television news channels, in which Kerala BJP president Sreedharan Pillai is heard saying that the chief of the Thantri family at the temple had consulted with him before taking the decision to close the temple doors if any woman of 'barred age group' arrived for darshan.
The temple will remain open till 10 pm on Tuesday after which it will open on November 16 for the Makaravilakku season. Police confirmed that the security arrangements made this week will be extended to later this month. â€śOnly Kerala state buses and media persons with ID will be allowed to go to Pamba. This arrangement will continue for the Makaravilakku season as well later this month", said a police officer stationed in Pamba.