Aparna, a 39-year-old teacher and cancer survivor, was fast asleep with her teenage daughter at their Kozhikode home in the early hours of Thursday when the sound of shattering glass pierced the darkness. It didn't take long for the petrified woman to realise that somebody had thrown stones at their residence, smashing its windows.
The reason for this animosity, Ms Aparna says, is a Facebook post she put up soon after the Supreme Court shot down an age-old rule preventing women of menstrual age from visiting the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala. "In that post, I asked young women who wanted to undertake the pilgrimage to message me directly. Around 30 reached out to me," she told NDTV.
As the controversy began heating up, around 20 women dropped out. The remaining ten stuck to their stand and launched their 41-day fast in preparation for the sacred journey to the hill shrine.
However, the much-assured support from the government never came. "We wrote to the Chief Minister and the Deputy General of Police, seeking their help, but never received a response. I did not intend to make the trip to Sabarimala, given that I had not recovered from my chemotherapy sessions yet, but the 10 women registered themselves on the police website and booked the 7-8 am slot for darshan on November 19," the teacher said.
That did not work either. Even reaching Sabarimala from their varied places of residence proved impossible.
It was in this backdrop that three women held a press conference with Ms Aparna's assistance on Monday. "We have fasted for 41 days, and we do want to go to Sabarimala. But, at the same time, we do not want to escalate what many are calling a war-like situation there. We will wait for an opportune time when the Kerala police and government are able to assure us of complete security," one of them told the media. Another spoke on how her freedom has been curtailed ever since she decided to go to Sabarimala.
The attack on Ms Aparna's house came two days later. "It was only recently that I wrapped up my chemotherapy treatment, and my last radiation session was on August 31. I didn't have the strength to undertake the pilgrimage, but I sincerely hoped that my friends could do so," she said.
However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed his helplessness in this regard. "We cannot transport anybody to Sabarimala, but if they come to the base point, we will provide them with all the required protection from there to the Sannidhanam," he said.