After BJP Protests, Kerala Government Withdraws Sabarimala Handbook

The temple opened on Wednesday on the eve of the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season which this year is expected to see a 40 to 50 per cent increase in devotees.

After BJP Protests, Kerala Government Withdraws Sabarimala Handbook

A senior police officer said a new handbook would be distributed soon. (File)

Pathanamthitta:

The Left government in Kerala on Thursday withdrew a handbook for police personnel on duty at the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala after the BJP raised a hue and cry over a reference in the book that all pilgrims can enter the temple.

As per the 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court, all the pilgrims, including women of all age groups, can enter the place of worship. The temple restricted the entry of women belonging to the age group of 10-50, as part of its age-old tradition -- since Lord Ayyappa is considered an eternal celibate, women below that age should not be allowed into the place of worship.

The handbook issued by the Home Department was withdrawn after the BJP alleged that the directive had a malicious motive. As the row broke out, State Devaswom Minister K Radhakrishnan, who was in Sabarimala in connection with the start of the annual pilgrimage from today, said directives to withdraw the handbook were given if any lapse in it was found.

He clarified the book was printed earlier and the directives in the handbook this year were given by mistake.

"The government has no ill-motive. We have done everything with a good intention. If there are any lapses in the directives, directions will be given to withdraw it," he said.

Senior police officer M R Ajith Kumar, too, said a new handbook would be distributed soon after rectifying the mistakes.

"It is learnt that the old duty-book was copied and printed as such. That's how the error happened. Besides this, some other mistakes also came to our notice. The DGP gave directions to withdraw it and issue the new duty-book," he told reporters.

The handbook comprises general instructions, saying all pilgrims are permitted to enter the temple as per the September 2018 verdict of the top court. Without directly mentioning the entry of women and the agitations that followed, BJP State chief K Surendran said if the Left government had any particular intention behind the directive permitting entry to all pilgrims, it was better to nip it in the bud.

"If the decision (of the government) is to turn Sabarimala into a war zone again and to target believers, we haven't forgotten anything from the past. The government had backtracked from those issues earlier. If you are coming up again with such a move, it will have far-reaching consequences...that's the only thing we can say," he told reporters.

The BJP leader said it was better for the government to step back from such plans.

Recently, senior CPI(M) leader G Sudhakaran, who had supported the previous Pinarayi Vijayan government on the entry of women, said women in the menstrual age group are not allowed into the temple as Lord Ayyappa is considered an eternal celibate and there is no need to change or subvert this practice.

Sudhakaran had said the minimum age for women to enter the temple has not been changed.

"It is something we all accept and respect. That is how things are going on. There is no need to alter or subvert it," Sudhakaran, who was also a minister in the previous Vijayan government, had said.

The ruling CPI(M) suffered a blow in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the Left party admitted that the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government's move to implement the Supreme Court order on Sabarimala played a major role in its drubbing.

The State had witnessed protests by various groups, including political parties like BJP and the Congress, against the CPI(M)-led government's decision to implement the order letter and spirit during the two-month long pilgrim season of 2018-19.

The government later put on hold its decision after a five-judge Constitution Bench of the court by a 3:2 majority verdict referred the pleas seeking a review of its 2018 judgement to a seven-judge Bench, along with other contentious issues of alleged discrimination against Muslim and Parsi women.

The temple opened on Wednesday on the eve of the annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season which this year is expected to see a 40 to 50 per cent increase in devotees in the absence of COVID-19 restrictions.

The temple saw a huge turnout of devotees braving the heavy rains this morning. 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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