The Kerala High Court today asked the state government to explain why it had imposed restrictions on the Sabarimala shrine and its surrounding areas, and directed the Pathanamthitta district magistrate to produce documents detailing the reasons that prompted such an action.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code -- a measure that prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area -- after violent protests erupted against a September 28 Supreme Court verdict allowing women of menstrual age to enter the hill shrine. The restrictions were imposed in Sannidhanam, Pamba, Nilakkal and Elavungal, among other places.
The High Court also asked the authorities to allow groups of people to enter the Ayyappa temple, and wondered how the police was able to differentiate between protesters and actual devotees. There was nothing wrong in raising the "Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa" chant, it held.
The court issued these directives while hearing three petitions against alleged excesses committed by the police in their attempts to enforce restrictions in the area ever since the temple reopened on November 16. As many as 69 people were arrested for alleged violations on Monday.
Sources said a notice handed over to pilgrims at the Nilakkal base on Tuesday even forbade them from staying for over six hours at the temple or speaking to the media, failing which they would be liable to be prosecuted.
News agency IANS has reported a fall in the number of pilgrims arriving at Sabarimala temple on a two-month pilgrimage, as compared to previous seasons. Although over seven lakh devotees registered online for darshan on various days this season, many did not turn up presumably due to protests by right-wing groups and the consequent tightening of security around the place.
The restrictions have been condemned by Opposition parties. While Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala expressed anguish over the way "prohibitory orders were imposed on a religious centre", Kerala BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai said they would step up protests against the Kerala government's high-handedness.
The hearing in the case has been adjourned to next week.
(With inputs from Agencies)