Controversy erupted in Kerala after the CPI(M)-led LDF government on Friday submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming 51 women in menstrual age entered the Sabarimala temple during the ongoing annual pilgrimage season.
The BJP, the Sabarimala Karma Samiti and the Pandalam royal family, associated with the Lord Ayyappa temple, came down heavily on the state government saying there were discrepancies in the age of the women devotees mentioned in the affidavit.
This is the first time the government has stated that 51 women in the previously barred age group have entered the temple.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran Friday said here that 7,564 women had registered online for visiting the hill-top shrine.
"As per the virtual 'queue' facility reports, 51 women between the age group of 10-50 have visited the temple. However, we don't know whether all of them have managed to reach the Sannidhanam (temple complex) and offered prayers or not," he told reporters here.
Strongly reacting to the submission in the apex court, the main opposition Congress and the BJP hit out at the LDF government, alleging it was lying in the affidavit.
BJP state President P S Sreedharan Pillai termed the government's submission as "the biggest lie of the century."
The state had witnessed widespread violent protests for several days from January 2 after the LDF government confirmed that two women in menstrual age entered the shrine following the September 28 apex court order allowing women of all ages into the shrine.
Kanaka Duraga and Bindu, aged 44 and 42 respectively, had entered the temple in the wee hours of January 2.This was followed by a Sri Lankan woman Sasikala offering prayers at the temple.
Chief Minister Pinarayi himself had confirmed the entry of the three women into the shrine.
Surendran said the government did not have the number of women who might have visited the temple without availing the online virtual queue system.
After the apex court verdict of September 28 last year, the age of women pilgrims were not being cross-checked at Pamba which is around 3.5 km from the Sannidhanam, he said.
The Minister said 8.2 lakh people passed through the virtual queue facility during this pilgrim season which began in November last year.
Pillai told PTI that the government was 'lying' to the Supreme Court and "fooling the people".
He said there were reports coming out saying most of the women in the government's list were above 50 years of age.
"In case if anyone had visited the temple, they should have come openly. Everything should have been done in a transparent manner. The CPI(M) and the government had failed in the Sabarimala issue and this was an attempt to hide it. They are fooling people," Pillai added.
Son of one Kalavathi Manohar from Goa told the media that the age of his mother was 52 and not 43 as the affidavit stated.
With more people contradicting the details in the affidavit, local TV channels reported that the first two names in the list were fake.
"We don't know on what basis the government had given this submission. No one knew about their entry. Even the media was not aware about the visit," Narayana Varma, a member of the erstwhile Pandalam royal family, associated with the temple, said.
The Congress also trained its guns on the LDF government, saying the state administration had became "a laughing stock after submitting erroneous and misguiding affidavit."
"This submission of wrong affidavit has brought shame to the state. The Chief Minister was responsible for this," KPCC President Mullappally Ramachandran said.
Meanwhile, Bindu Friday hailed the Supreme Court direction to Kerala police to provide round-the-clock security to her and Kanakadurga.
"This is a verdict upholding the self-respect and pride of women," Bindu told reporters.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L N Rao and Dinesh Maheshwari Friday directed Kerala police to provide round-the-clock security to Bindu and Kanakadurga on their petition seeking police protection.
The bench gave the order after studying the present situation in Kerala which had witnessed frenzied protests by devotees, Bindu claimed.
"We have faced threats, verbal abuse in social media. In such a situation, the verdict upholds the self-respect and pride of women", she said, adding, she had faith in the judiciary and the judicial system.
Bindu also claimed many people whom she knew had offered prayers at the Ayyappa temple, but were scared to reveal their identity fearing threats.
The top court was hearing the petitions of Bindu and Kanakadurga who had entered the Sabarimala shrine on January 2.
Earlier this month, the two women had stepped into the hallowed precincts guarded by the police, more than three months after the apex court's historic judgement lifting the ban on the entry of girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age into the shrine of Ayyappa, its "eternally celibate" deity.
Following the entry of the women into the shrine, the chief priest had decided to close the sanctum sanctorum of the temple to perform the 'purification' ceremony.
On September 28 last year, a five-judge Constitution bench, headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, in a 4:1 verdict paved the way for entry of women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple, saying the ban amounted to gender discrimination.