Approx 2,300 security personnel, including a 20-member commando team and policewomen above 50, were posted in and around the Shabarimala temple in Kerala today, hours before it was to open for two days.
Extra security has been called in after violent protests last month against women who tried to enter the temple following a Supreme Court order ending the ban on women of menstrual age, or between 10 and 50 years, entering the shrine dedicated to celibate god Lord Ayyappa.
This is the second time the hilltop temple will open for devotees since the court order in September.
Here is cheatsheet to this big story:
* At least 15 women police personnel, over 50 years, are at the temple complex that will open for five hours today. Since Saturday, the police have banned gatherings of four or more people in Shabarimala and nearby areas and said they hope to ensure “smooth” darshan and security of devotees.
* Last month, the temple saw protests and blockades preventing around a dozen women from reaching it as demonstrators and cops clashed over the communist state government’s decision to implement the court order. Journalists too faced attacks from protesters.
* The shrine is expected to open at 5 pm today for a special puja due tomorrow and will close at 10 pm after it.
* Many Ayyappa devotees, including those from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, have gathered at Nilakkal, one of the two “base camps” on the way to the shrine.
* Minister Kadakampally Surendran said the state government would ensure complete protection to believers. So far no woman below 50 has asked for police protection to offer prayers at the shrine, he said.
* The Shabarimala Karma Samiti, a platform of right-wing outfits, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, appealed to media houses not to send women journalists, who are in that age group, to cover the developments in Shabarimala.
* The samiti alleged that even though the Supreme Court has decided to hear petitions challenging its decision to end the ban on November 13, the state government was intentionally ignoring the “mass movement” against the judgement and was trying to “hastily” enforce it using police force.
* Activist Rahul Easwar, president of Ayyappa Dharma Sena that is among the outfits spearheading the protests, in a video message said, “Like police, we are also fully prepared”.
* Mr Easwar, belonging to the Thazhamon family of Shabarimala thantris, is out on bail after being arrested twice last month in connection with the protests in and around Shabarimala against the government’s decision to implement the court verdict and also for making provocative remarks.
* About 3,700 people have been arrested and 545 cases registered in connection with last month’s violence. BJP president Amit Shah came out in their support recently, provoking opposition allegations that he was defying the Supreme Court.>