A 12-year-old girl wept as she was stopped on her way to the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala this morning while her family was reportedly asked to proceed without her. The girl, in a pink dress, was seen in visuals being led away by a police woman at the Pamba base camp, about 9 km away from the shrine. Her father tried to comfort her and reason with the police, but nothing helped. The Kerala government has remained non-committal about giving protection to women and girls between 10 and 50 who are no longer banned from visiting the shrine after a Supreme Court order but have been unable to do so because of stiff opposition from priests, rightwing activists and even some political parties.
The girl and her family from Puducherry were stopped as they reached Pamba around 10 am and asked to produce an ID, according to news agency ANI. After they checked her Aadhaar card, the police told her she would have to stay back at a room in base camp while her family continued the trek.
The Sabarimala shrine opened for the 41-day annual pilgrimage season on Saturday evening. Hours before the shrine was opened for the devotees, 10 women from Andhra Pradesh were sent back from the hill shrine.
Recently, the Supreme Court, responding to petitions challenging its decision to remove the ban on women below 50, or those of menstruating age, referred it to a larger seven-judge bench along with other issues that reflected discrimination of women in various religions. But the top court did not put on hold its earlier order, which meant women of all ages could still visit Sabarimala.
Kerala Minister AK Balan, however, told reporters that there was a stay on the earlier Supreme Court order.
Last year, the Supreme Court had, by a majority verdict of 4:1, ended the centuries-old ban on women and girls between 10 and 50 from entering the famous Ayyappa shrine, calling the religious practice "illegal and unconstitutional". More than 60 petitions were filed after the Supreme Court's September 2018 verdict sparked violent protests in Kerala.
In a statement on Friday, Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that women activists seeking protection to visit the shrine will have to get a court order. The temple board has echoed the state government's views, adding that it has sought a legal advice after the top court's order.