A 38 year old woman from Kerala, has arrived at the Pamba base camp and is likely to start trekking the last 5-km to the Shabarimala temple, where protesters are lying in wait to stop any attempt by women of menstruating age to enter the shrine of Lord Ayyappa nestled in the Western Ghats.
It has started raining in the hills. Manju, general secretary of the Kerala Dalit Mahila Federation, has asked for police protection. She will have to walk the muddy uphill path surrounded by a group of policemen in riot gear. If she succeeds in entering the temple, she will make history.
Today is the fourth day since the temple was opened after the Supreme Court last month overturned a centuries-old ban on women between 10 and 50 years entering Shabarimala. No woman in this age group has made it to the temple.
This afternoon, high drama unfolded outside the temple when a woman from Tamil Nadu was stopped from entering the compound by devotees who thought she was under 50. They let her walk up the 18 golden steps that lead to the shrine of Lord Ayyappa only after checking her identity paper with her date of birth mentioned on it.
Carrying the traditional prayer kit irumudikkettu offered to Lord Ayyappa, Trichy resident Latha who trekked up with her family was near the temple when some protesting devotees saw her and formed a wall, blocking her way.
Latha, tears in her eyes, showed her identity card to prove her age. “This is my second pilgrimage to Shabarimala. I came here last year too,” she said.
On Friday, two under-50 women almost walked to history but had to turn back 500 metres from the 18 golden steps at Shabarimala temple. The temple’s priests also threatened to close the shrine if the two women somehow managed to enter the compound.
A third woman who did not ask for police protection did not even start the climb and went back.
Women reporters were attacked, their vehicles vandalised and stones were thrown at them on Wednesday when the temple reopened. A day later two reporters of The New York Times were forced to turn back from the 5-km trek to the temple.
A court today denied bail to activist Rahul Easwar, who was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly attacking some women at the Nilakkal base camp. He has denied the allegations. The next hearing is on October 22.
Kerala Inspector General S Sreejith, who on Friday led the police team that formed a protective ring around the two women, Hyderabad journalist Kavitha Thakkal and Kochi resident Rehana Fatima, said the police will provide all the protection devotees need to trek up to the temple. “… But darshan is something which can be done with consent of the priest. We will give them whatever protection they want,” Mr Sreejith said.>