Two days after the Supreme Court deferred the verdict on the Sabarimala issue, the Lord Ayappa Temple is all set to open today for the Mandala Pooja festival. Women of all age groups will be allowed to enter the temple, however, no protection will be given to the women.
Women rights activist Trupti Desai, who has been a vehement critic of the restriction on the entry of women of a certain age group, said she will be visiting the temple after November 20 regardless of whether or not she is provided security cover.
This comes after sources told that the Kerala government will not provide protection to activists entering the temple.
As pilgrims have already started making their way to the Sabarimala temple, what now needs to be seen is whether women would be able to enter the temple or not.
What is the Sabarimala issue?
The Travancore Devaswom Board has, since 1951, restricted the entry of women of menstrual age (between 10 years and 50 years) from entering the Sabarimala temple. The notification made legally binding since 1965 and was upheld by the Kerala High Court in 1991.
On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court opened the temple to women of all ages. The decision turned Kerala into the war zone. Sangh Parivar and Hindu organisations started blocking women of menstrual age from entering the temple.
The then Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra had stated that the selective ban on women was not an "essential part" of Hinduism, and instead a form of "religious patriarchy".
Massive protests were witnessed at Nilakkal and Pamba base camps on 17 October 2018, when the temple was opened for the first time after the Supreme Court verdict. Protesters reportedly assaulted women activists, journalists, and other women who were trying to enter the temple. People stole camera equipment of women journalists and even damaged a vehicle. The police were also attacked in the protest.
Shockingly, a number of women were among the protesters trying to restrict women from entering the temple, checking cars to see if they contained women of menstruating age and helping with the roadblocks.
Supreme Court defers own verdict
The five-judge bench of the apex court, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, referred the issues to a larger bench, to consider the limits of the powers of the apex court in deciding conflicts between religion and other rights.
"The debate about the constitutional validity of practices entailing into restriction of entry of women generally in the place of worship is not limited to this case, but also arises in respect of entry of Muslim women in a dargah/mosque as also in relation to Parsi women married to a non-Parsi into the holy fireplace of an Agyari" observed the bench in a 3:2 majority decision.
The majority verdict, penned by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Indu Malhotra, observed that the apex court should "tread cautiously" on issues of religion, including religious practices.
This verdict means different things for different people. For the devotees and for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Supreme Court's verdict offers a great relief. The court has endorsed their stand that traditions of the temple to be followed. "The decision of the five-member Constitution Bench is a relief and hope for the devotees. I hope that nobody will meddle with the faith and tradition of the temple," Chief Priest of Sabarimala Temple Kandararu Rajeevaru told media.
However, Women's rights activists believe that since the court had not issued any stay on the entry of women, the 2018 verdict which allowed entry of women to the Temple would continue to hold sway.
No police protection for women
According to sources, the Kerala government has decided that the police will not be providing protection to women activists visiting the Sabarimala temple.
Several ministers in the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet have said that law and order must be maintained and "women activists should be keep away from the Sabarimala temple".
Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran on Friday said that "Sabarimala is not a place for activism and the LDF government would not support those who make announcements about entering the hill shrine for the sake of publicity".
In view of this, Women right activist Trupti Desai on Friday said that she will go to Sabarimala temple after November 20 regardless of whether she would be provided protection by the Kerala government or not.
"I will go to Sabarimala after November 20. We will seek protection from the Kerala government and it is upto them to give us protection or not. Even if not provided with protection, I will visit Sabarimala for the darshan," Trupti Desai said
Preparations for the opening of Sabarimala Mandir
In view of the protests that broke out in 2018, post the Supreme Court's order allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple, the government and the police, this time, have decided to take necessary measures to contain anything that may hinder peaceful worship.
A total of 10,017 police personnel have been deployed on the ground in the Sabarimala region including Pamba, Nilakal and Erumeli.
According to Pathanamthitta District Collector, 800 medical staff have been deployed 16 medical emergency centres have been established.
Pathanamthitta District Collector said that all basic arrangements are in place. Around 2,400 toilets and more than 250 water kiosks are ready.
"We have more than 1,000 sanitation workers deployed to ensure a clean atmosphere," he said.