On September 28, the Supreme Court, in a strongly-worded judgement, ruled that women of all ages must be allowed into Kerala's Sabarimala temple ending a ban that prevented women and girls between 10 and 50 years from entering the shrine.
When the Sabarimala temple was set to open to devotees on October 17, history was waiting to happen. But, the temple opening for a 5-day ritual was met with protests, aimed at preventing the entry of women of menstruating age groups. Since the temple opening, at least 12 women attempted the trek to the hilltop shrine staring at the Nilakkal base camp, each getting up to a certain point of the 20 odd kilometre trek, but none of these women were successful. While some were heckled, threatened and forced down the hills, the others voluntarily aborted their trek following intimidation by protesters.
Here are the women who got the closest to making history in Sabarimala:
Libi CS was among the first to attempt the trek to the shrine on the day the temple gates were to open. Days before her visit, she had posted her plan on Facebook. The protesters had apparently seen her post and decided to block her the moment she reached a bus stand in Pathanamthitta, 65 km from the temple. The police had shielded her from a group of protesters who had surrounded her at the bus stop. They threatened to burn the bus if it drove towards the temple's base camp, news agency IANS had reported.
Madhavi from Andhra Pradesh, who began the climb to Sabarimala along with her children and parents, was the second woman to attempt the trek on Day 1. Walking alongside police, the 40-year-old and her family were heckled and intimidated. Ten minutes into their trek, the family had to abandon their plans. Protesters chased Madhavi and her family, shouting slogans. Protesters had their way as the family, afraid to proceed, turned back.
On Day 2 of the Sabarimala temple opening, Suhasini Raj, a Delhi-based New York Times reporter who said she was not a devotee, began to trek uphill along with her colleague. The two journalists who got past Pamba base camp had to abort just before the lag leg of the trek to the shrine after protesters formed a human wall before her. According to the reporter, the protesters had thrown stones, forcing the two journalists to return.
Kavitha Jakkal, a journalist from Hyderabad attempted the climb in riot gear and a yellow helmet, ring-fenced from protesters by policemen. She was meters away from the 18 gold-plated steps leading to the main sanctum sanctorum, but was turned away by chanting and clapping protesters at the steps.
Activist Rehana Fatima, who had completed almost the same distance as the journalist, met the same fate. Ms Fatima was expelled from the Muslim community after her attempt to the enter the shrine. Her house in Kochi was also vandalised by unidentified men while she was on her climb to the hilltop temple.
Following the attempt by both Kavita Jakkal and Rehana Fatima, the temple priests had threatened to stop rituals and prayers and shutdown Sabarimala.
Around the same time as Kavita Jakkal and Rehana Fatima trekked to the hilltop shrine, another woman, Mary Sweety began the climb to the shrine, claiming that she had visited churches, mosques, temples and "wanted to see Ayyappa". Police had however, according to reports, asked the 46-year-old to continue her journey on her own.
On Day 3, 38-year-old Manju from Kerala decided to drop her plans to get a glimpse of Lord Ayyappa not because of the protesters, but owing to heavy rainfall in the area. Manju, general secretary of the Kerala Dalit Mahila Federation, had asked for police protection. She was told that a decision on giving her security would depend upon a background check.
Two women, Vasanthi, 41 and Aadhiseshi, 42 had started their climb towards the Sabarimala temple on Sunday. They too were stopped by protesters 200 metres from the Pamba base camp. They said the protesters surrounded them, blocked their way and forced them to return to the base camp, minutes after they started climbing towards the shrine.
On Sunday, another woman from Andra Pradesh, 47-year-old Balamma, decided to do the trek alone, walked for almost 4 km before she was heckled by protesters to the point where she suffered a panic attack and needed to be taken to a hospital.
Two women from Andhra Pradesh turned up at Pamba yesterday claiming that were on part of a pilgrim group visiting temples across Kerala. They said they did not know about the situation in Sabarimala, and have decided to return home. The police took their statement and escorted them out of the base camp.
The temple will shut its doors to devotees at 10 pm tonight, making it the last day for a woman between 10 and 50 years to be the first to to set foot into the hilltop shrine after the top court ruling.
Amid ongoing protests and repeated attempts by women to get to the shrine, police continue to say that they would give all the protection women devotees need to reach the temple without fear. "... But darshan is something which can be done with consent of the priest. We will give them whatever protection they want," Kerala Inspector General S Sreejith said.
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