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2 Women Return from Brink of History After Top Sabarimala Priest's Ultimatum to 'Shut Shrine'

As the women neared the shrine, devotees at the temple blocked the entry gate in defiance of the Supreme Court verdict which had allowed women of all ages to enter and pray there.

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Updated:October 19, 2018, 3:30 PM IST
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2 Women Return from Brink of History After Top Sabarimala Priest's Ultimatum to 'Shut Shrine'
A combination image of the two women devotees who attempted to enter the Sabarimala temple, but were forced back later.
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Sabarimala: The entry point of Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala saw a tense confrontation between protesting devotees and policemen on Friday, forcing two women to abort their attempt of becoming the first female pilgrims of menstrual age to enter the shrine.

The two women, a journalist and a devotee from Kochi, were protected by a team of 100 policemen, led by Inspector General of Police Sreejith. They started the two-hour climb at 6:45 am with 20 policemen leading the women from the front, while 80 officers followed them, forming layers of security. While the journalist put on police gear, the devotee wore a helmet and was dressed in the traditional attire for Sabarimala pilgrims.

As the women neared the shrine, devotees at the temple blocked the entry gate in defiance of the Supreme Court verdict which had allowed women of all ages to enter and pray there.

In a never-before move, around 30 employees attached to the temple tantri and the chief priest went on protest as they stopped their rituals and sat down in front of the hallowed 18 steps leading to the sanctum santorum and sang Lord Ayyappa hymns.

As IG Sreejith tried to reason with the protesters at the temple gate, chief priest Kandararu Rajeevaru made a statement saying he would be forced to shut the temple if the women entered the shrine. “If the women enter the temple, we will stop all prayers and activities. We are with the devotees. Sentiments of the devotees can’t be taken for granted. We are fully supporting the devotees. If the women enter the temple, we will be forced to shut it. I will walk out with the keys,” he said.

Addressing the media moments later, Sreejith said the women had decided against continuing the pilgrimage. "So we told the two women about it and they also decided to abandon their trek and return, asking for protection till they reached home," Sreejith said. "So we are taking them back."

"We were helpless. The head priest said that he will close the temple and that would have been a ritualistic disaster. We could have removed the protesters, but the state government had ordered us not to. We will continue to provide security to devotees,” he said.

However, Kerala Minister of Devasoms, Kadakampally Surendran, claimed the two women were actually activists. "After coming to know that, it becomes our duty to protect the rights of the devotees and not that of activists. Our request to women activists is not to ply their trade in hallowed places. The police should have been more cautious. They should have found out more about these women. The state government is duty-bound to protect the rights of the devotees," said Surendran.

The house of the devotee in Kochi was, meanwhile, vandalised by unidentified attackers. “We have just come here after hearing about the damage caused to her home. We do not know if there were other residents around," said a police official.

On Thursday, a New Delhi-based woman journalist was stopped midway by devotees opposing the entry of women of menstrual age into the hill shrine. The journalist accompanied by a male colleague, a foreigner, descended the hills from Marakkoottam area in the face of mounting protests. A case has been registered against devotees who allegedly prevented her from trekking and forced her to climb down the hills, PTI reported.
| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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