Tension prevailed on Wednesday morning in Kerala at Nilakkal, the main gateway to Sabarimala, after the police used force to disperse devotees opposing the entry of girls and women of menstrual age into the hill shrine.
Acting tough, the police, deployed in large numbers in Nilackal, some 20 kms away from the Sabarimala hilltop, also removed a makeshift shelter erected by a protesting group Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti.
The protesting group of devotees had been staging a sit-in chanting Ayyappa mantra in the shelter in protest against the Supreme Court order permitting women of all age groups to enter the shrine.
The protesting people, who were less in numbers, ran from the spot when the police initiated action in the early hours on Wednesday when they tried to block the buses from the key entry point to the temple.
However, within a few hours, the protesters were back at the spot and resumed their agitation against the order.
Political parties have also jumped into the issue, with the Congress announcing a day-long hunger strike in support of the protesters.
The BJP, too, questioned the decision of the Kerala government to act against those stopping women devotees from entering Sabarimala.
Hours ahead of opening of the hill shrine for the monthly prayer, the police said they would not let anyone block the movement of the people.
Taking the full control of Nilakkal, police also warned against those who create hurdles in the ways of pilgrims to the hill shrine.
The police took strong action against the protesters after some of them checked the vehicles heading to Pamba and prevented the women in the age group of 10 and 50 from entering the hill shrine.
However, women cops too faced backlash from protesters, who questioned their deployment. Three female police personnel were stopped by activist Rahul Easwar and his supporters at Pamba.
The agitation continued as stones were pelted at a vehicle carrying women devotees in Nilakkal but nobody was injured.
The incident happened when protesters insisted on searching the vehicle but the police refused. In retaliation, they pelted stones and shattered the windshield of the vehicle.
A couple from Tamil Nadu, aged 45 and 40, on their way to Pamba, were forced to get down from the KSRTC bus Monday night allegedly by some activists of the Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti.
Although the couple had said that they would go only up to Pamba and not climb Sabarimala, the activists prevented them. The police later took them to safety.
Some activists of the Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti, who had stayed back at Nilackal, also allegedly prevented the media persons from carrying out their professional duty.
Crew of various TV news channels were asked to leave the place. They could return the spot after more policemen were deployed in the area.
Around 500 police personnel, including women, have been deployed to ensure a safe passage to the pilgrims to the Lord Ayyappa temple.
The shrine located on the mountain ranges of the ecologically fragile Western Ghats opens later in the evening for the first time after the recent Supreme Court.>