Sabarimala temple: Protestors have surrounded Trupti Desai at Kochi airport
Kochi: Activist Trupti Desai has called off her plan to visit the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala over concerns of law and order, and is returning to Pune. Although the seven-member group led by the Pune-based activist arrived at the Kochi airport this morning, she was unable to leave the building or even hail a taxi because of the protesters outside. Ms Trupti initially insisted on going ahead with their plan, but relented after police advised them against doing so. "We have not come here to disrupt law and order," she had told NDTV over the phone earlier. "Police have asked us to return, but promised to help the next time we decide to come." The hilltop shrine opened at 5 pm today for a two-month-long puja, in which lakhs of devotees and tourists are expected to participate.
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Trupti Desai said her team has decided to retreat for now to avoid a confrontation, but promised to return unannounced in her next attempt. Protesters remained standing outside the airport for long afterwards, saying they will disperse only after the activist's departure is confirmed.
"We may be leaving but this is the protesters' defeat, not ours. We forced the protesters to come all the way up to Kochi airport, and we see that as a victory," she said. The activist had earlier written to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the state police chief, seeking protection to visit the shrine.
Sources said Kochi airport authorities were averse to letting Trupti Desai's group camp on the premises for too long in view of the raging agitation. However, protesters said they would not have allowed the seven-member team to leave the airport either on foot or by vehicle.
Reports say agitators even visited hotels in Pathanamthitta district, where the temple is located, demanding that they not accept bookings from Trupti Desai or any women visitors in the "banned" age group.
The protesters, comprising BJP workers and right-wing organisations, assembled outside the airport early this morning. They were determined to prevent Trupti Desai's team from entering the temple, which reopened at 5 pm for the third time ever since the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the shrine on September 28.
Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the Ayyappa temple, has decided to approach the Supreme Court seeking more time to implement its verdict on the entry of women. Board president A Padma Kumar said the petition will be filed in the top court as early as Saturday or Monday.
The state's Left-led government has made massive security arrangements amid unrelenting protests by devotees and political workers against any attempt to change the archaic tradition. Over 15,000 policemen are posted in and around Sabarimala, and teams of commandos and disaster response personnel are on standby. For the first time ever, pilgrims heading to the shrine in their private vehicles will need passes from the police.
After the Supreme Court's September order allowing women of all ages to enter the temple, many attempted to make the pilgrimage but failed due to violent protests by devotees who said they would not allow Lord Ayyappa -- a celibate god -- to be insulted.
The Supreme Court will consider as many as 49 petitions challenging its order on January 22. Rejecting an urgent hearing on Wednesday, the judges refused to put on hold the order but said the petitions would be taken up in an open court.
The Kerala government called an all-party meeting on Thursday to discuss the Sabarimala controversy, but the Congress and the BJP -- which have been trying to outdo each other in showing support for the devotees -- walked out.