With the Sabarimala temple in Kerala set to reopen on November 5, the Pathanamthitta district administration has announced a temporary ban on large gatherings at the pilgrimage site and its surrounding areas from Saturday night. District Collector PB Nooh said restrictions under Section 144 of the CrPC, prohibiting four or more people from gathering, will be in force at Elavunkal, Nilakkal, Pamba and Sannidhanam until Tuesday midnight.
Police patrolling will also be intensified to ensure that nobody is harmed.
Women devotees and journalists approaching the hill shrine were attacked by right-wing activists on October 17, the day its gates were opened for the first time after the Supreme Court junked an age-old ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 entering its premises. Several women attempted to enter its sanctum sanctorum in the days that followed, but were forced to turn back upon being confronted by violent protesters. Following that, the district administration imposed restrictions on the four areas through October 18 to 22.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala has accused the Kerala government of "creating friction instead of dousing passions" in the Sabarimala issue. "The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have only one agenda. The Pinarayi Vijayan government should have come out with a proper plan to avoid trouble," he asserted, adding that the government has "no business" interfering with the pilgrimage.
The government, for its part, maintained that it will continue to honour the Supreme Court verdict by allowing women to visit the shrine. "The Sangh Parivar is responsible for this violence... It is trying every dirty trick in its kitty to gain a foothold in Kerala," Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said recently.
Right-wing leaders across the country, from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to BJP president Amit Shah, have objected to the Supreme Court verdict. Mr Bhagwat had claimed last month that the judiciary's decision had not taken the nature and premise of tradition into consideration, giving rise to "divisiveness" in society.
Mr Shah took a more combative stand on the issue. "I want to tell the (Kerala) government and judges who pronounce orders in court that you should issue orders that can be implemented, not ones that break the faith of the people," he said at a rally in Kannur.