Pratyush Deep | Oct 17, 2018 | 4 min read
Women trainee journalists assaulted, dragged off bus heading towards Sabarimala for ‘wearing black’
By Pratyush Deep, Priyamvada Rana, Raj Chetan
Nilakkal: As the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala prepares to reopen for the first time following the Supreme Court verdict last month which allowed female devotees to enter temple premises, strong protests rocked the surrounding areas leaving many jittery.
On Tuesday, the base camp at Nilakkal, which is 20 km away from the main shrine, was teeming with protesters — mostly women — inspecting cars, buses, and other vehicles heading to Pamba to check for female pilgrims. While hundreds of agitated women protesters were forcibly dragging women out of the vehicles, absence of women police officers at the scene aggravated the situation further. Female members of the press covering the protest too were not allowed to proceed towards the main shrine.
“We will not let any women between the age group of 10-50 go beyond Nilakkal. This is a matter of faith and ritual. This has to be followed,” said one of the women protesters who obstructed two female students of journalism who were travelling to Pamba to cover the protests. “If you have to cover the event, do it from Nilakkal. We will not allow you to go to Pamba,” the woman added before assaulting the female students.
Two of the trainees — Dravika Trehan, 21 and Reetu Rohini, 22 — were also assaulted for wearing black dresses as the women protesters misidentified them to be potential devotees who could “defile the rituals”. When the trainees asked protesters to check their ID cards, the women said they held no relevance for them as those were printed in English. That the women trainees were wearing black was enough to confirm to the protesters that their intention was to 'defile the tradition' .
Nilakkal was the epicenter of the massive agitation on Tuesday with organisations like Sabarimala Achara Samrakshan Samiti at the forefront. “This protest has been going on since the past nine days and will turn violent if the demands of the protesters are not met. The state and judiciary should not have entered into our religious matters as the issue is related to sentiments. Sabarimala is the home of Lord Ayyappa who chose an ascetic life to practice celibacy and so interference of women in the shrine shall be seen as transgressive,” said Neelesh Sagar, a local who came to protest at the base camp with his family.
When questioned why this specific age group should be deprived of the right to worship, the women named menstruation as the main cause. “There are many Lord Ayyappa temples in Kerala. Entry is only restricted in Sabarimala which is the main shrine. Women can go elsewhere to worship. This matter is related to a longstanding custom and has nothing to do with equality in rights,” said a woman protester from Sabarimala Achara Samrakshan Samiti.
On September 28, a five-judge SC bench comprising of the-then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra granted women of all ages the right to enter Sabarimala temple. The verdict was given on a public interest litigation filed by Indian Young Lawyers’ Association in 2006 seeking entry for female pilgrims across all ages in the temple. The decision was met with widespread outrage with many claiming that it would desecrate their faith.
“We are trying to make the women who reach here understand the importance of these customs and preserve those, as crores of believers stand by it and visit the shrine,” said Anoj from the Sabarimala Achara Samrakshan Samiti while advising women to refrain from violating tradition.
Ayyappa Seva Sangam and devotees from various parts of the country also joined the protests. “I came all the way from Karnataka to join the demonstration. This pilgrimage was never meant for women and I strongly condemn the Supreme Court order,” said one Ramakrishna Poojari.
Another devotee from Andhra Pradesh, Sanjay, said, “We cannot let anyone tamper with our customs and traditions. Allowing women for pilgrimage would be detrimental to our religion. All women pilgrims need to be stopped come what may.”
On Wednesday, the protesters at Nilakkal had returned after the police had forcefully evicted them earlier. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan has warned protesters not to block devotees heading towards Sabarimala, but the gridlock doesn’t seem coming to an end with women spearheading the agitation by obstructing other women heading towards the shrine.
Sabarimala shrine is open for monthly prayers for a few days and for annual pilgrimage once a year through the months of November and December. The present schedule of monthly prayers called as Thulam is between 17 October and 21 October when the shrine will remain open for devotees of all ages and gender, as per the Supreme Court verdict.
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