Situation remained tense in Kerala for the second consecutived day on Thursday over the Supreme Court's September 28 judgment to grant permission to women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple.
Police said that Section 144 has been imposed in Pampa, Nilakkal, Sannidhanam and Elavungal to prevent mass gathering. But when a female journalist along with her colleague, a foreign national, managed to go past the Pamba gateway, they were stopped midway by the devotees and forced to return.
Sabarimala showdown: Kerala waits with bated breath as gate of Ayyappa temple opens for all women today
Sabarimala temple opens, women prevented from entering despite SC ruling; bandh called in Kerala today
“I had reached half way and then the protests grew stronger. I was hit by a stone and then we decided to return. The police had provided us with all the security,” Suhasini Raj, who works as the India reporter for The New York Times, said.
The journalist accompanied by her male colleague, a foreigner, descended the hills from Marakkoottam area in the face of mounting protest by the Ayyappa devotees.
A case has been registered against devotees who allegedly prevented her trekking and forced her to climb down the hills.
The journalist later said she and her colleague decided to return after they were stopped by an "aggressive mob" which hurled stones at them.
A stone hit her on the shoulder, she said.
Reporters of Malayalam news channels who followed the journalist to the hill shrine said the devotees shouted slogans "ladies go back".
Some even allegedly hurled abuses at her opposing her entry into the ancient shrine, the reports said.
Police had thrown a security ring around the woman and her colleague.
Local TV crew said she is in her late 40s. However, there is no confirmation regarding her age.
The woman told protesters that she was a journalist and she was on her way to the shrine for carrying out her professional duty.
The police told her that they were ready to provide her security but she decided not to climb the hills further, police said.
The journalist and her colleague were later taken to Pamba police station.
Later on a video posted on social media, telecast by TV channels, the journalist said police were escorting them in the best possible way they could.
"While we were midway to the temple, the mob got very huge and very aggressive and started pelting stones and something hit me on my shoulder," she said.
She said she and her colleague decided to return because they didn't want "anybody to get hurt".
The police tried to do their best to make sure that they reached the temple and enable her to carry out her professional work, the journalist said.
If she had been able to climb the hills, she would have become the first woman of the menstrual age group to visit the Sabarimala Temple of Lord Ayyappa after the Supreme Court order permitting women of all age groups to enter the shrine.
Earlier on Wednesday, women journalists were heckled, their vehicles smashed and young female Ayyappa devotees turned back as hordes of activists of Hindu fringe groups besieged the road leading to the temple.
“Situation is peaceful. There is no problem here. We have deployed sufficient police force in Pampa and Sannidhanam. There is no issue. Currently, this (Section 144) has been imposed for two days, further decision will be taken as per situation,” Nooh said.
Of the 30 protesters, who was arrested on Wednesday, 20 were produced before the Magistrate Court in Ranni near here. They were remanded to two weeks judicial custody. The arrested activists included a member of the Tantri family, Rahul Eashwar.
A dawn-to-dusk shutdown backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party was called against Wednesday's police attack on protesters who were opposing the entry of women within the age group of 10-50 years to the Lord Ayyappa shrine.
At a few places in Kozhikode, Malappuram and here, protesters stoned buses of the Kerala State Road Transport Corp following which their operation was suspended.
On the occasion of Mahanavami, all state and central government offices, banks and educational institutions were closed.
Shops and markets also remained shut. There were poor attendance at the IT park here and in Kochi. Railway commuters faced the brunt of the shutdown as they failed to get taxis and public vehicles from the stations.
Speaking to the media at the temple premise, Chief Priest Kantararu Rajeevaru said: "We have the highest regards for women. And those who otherwise come to pray at the temple are treated with utmost respect.
"We always respect the law of the land but in the wake of the apex court's ruling, we humbly request women that they should not try to break the tradition of this hallowed temple."
He said it was most unfortunate that there had been a wrong campaign that if any woman in the hitherto banned age group entered the temple, he would close the temple.
"I have never ever said such a thing. We all wish and want that the Sabarimala temple is not turned into a conflict zone as there are lakhs and lakhs of devotees of this temple all over the world."
The temple opened on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the first time after the September 28 Supreme Court ruling allowing entry of women aged between 10 and 50.
As part of the convention, the temple opens for five days on the first of every Malayalam month. It will now be open till October 22.
Strong protests were witnessed on Wednesday as political and religious groups turned out in large numbers. Some protesters opposed to the entry of women in the 10-50 age group clashed with police and heckled women journalists.
Six BJP youth wing activists were arrested at Nilackal on Thursday for staging a protest in violation of section 144 of the CrPC, which has been clamped in the area in view of violent demonstrations against allowing women in the menstruating age group inside the Sabarimala temple.
Police removed the slogan-shouting Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha members who launched a sit-in protest at Nilackal, the gateway to Sabarimala, soon after the BJP state President P S Sreedharan Pillai announced in Thiruvananthapuram BJYM activists would violate section 144 in areas including Nilackal.
While being forcibly bundled into a police vehicle, state BJYM president Prakash Babu said not a single woman in the age group of 10 and 50 would be allowed to climb the hills which houses the temple.
Police said strong action would be taken against those disrupting the law and order.
Police had on Wednesday also promulgated section 144 of CrPc in four places including Pamba, Sannidhanam to check any kind of protest and violence. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) prohibits an assembly of more than four persons in an area.
Meanwhile, Sabarimala Thanthri (Chief Priest) Kantaru Rajeevaru appealed to those involved in the controversy not to make Sabarimala a centre of conflict.
He dismissed the alleged propaganda through the social media that doors of the temple would be locked if women in the "banned" age group reach the shrine.
Asserting that he was a law-abiding citizen, the priest appealed to the women in menstruating age group not to climb the hills, hurting the sentiments of large number of Ayyappa devotees.
Tense moments prevailed at Pamba and Nilackal at the foothill on Wednesday as protesters opposing the Supreme Court order allowing the entry of women of all age group in the temple had turned violent and clashed with police, which resulted in baton-charge by the latter.
Stones were pelted at police vehicles and buses.
Several persons including an old woman were injured in the stone-pelting and connected incidents.
Some demonstrators and police engaged in stone throwing, leading to a lathi charge on the protesters.
On account of the violence, the Pathanamthitta district collector has clamped Section 144 in around 30 sq km around the temple.
State BJP chief P.S. Sreedharan Pillai on Thursday said all this happened because of the Left government.
"We condemn the violence that took place there and we will bring this to the attention of the Centre. This is outrageous.
"We have decided to intensify our protest. From today, till October 22, every day at 11.30 a.m., 41 Yuva Morcha activists will break Section 144 and will get arrested," he said.
Vijayan, now in the UAE, wrote in his Facebook post that the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were trying to turn the hallowed temple into a conflict zone.
"The devotees of the temple should realise this ploy but the state government is determined to thwart all such attempts and would deal with the situation in the appropriate manner," said Vijayan.
Meanwhile, the Kerala Police on Thursday warned of tough action against all those who spread canards on the social media about Sabarimala in the present situation.
Kerala DGP said that officials are also monitoring activities on social media which protesters are using as a toll to incite others for violence. The DGP said that directions have been issued to the cyber cell to register cases against people who are spreading religious hatred posts related to incidents of violence in Nilakkal and Pamba on social media.
IGP Thiruvananthapuram range said that situation is under control and police officials are on the ground. “We will give protection to everybody going up. It is our job, to give protection to all pilgrims. We will put more manpower and secure all routes.”
The CPI on Thursday accused the BJP-RSS combine and Congress of indulging in "double-talk" and playing "dirty games" over the Sabarimala issue to target the Left government in Kerala by exploiting people's sentiments.
The Communist Party of India (CPI) is the second biggest constituent of the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
CPI National General Secretary Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy termed as "very unfortunate" the protests in Kerala against the Supreme Court verdict allowing entry of women of all ages to the hill shrine.
"They (agitators) should respect the SC judgement in spite of the sentiment which they may be having (against it)," Reddy said.
"Gender equality has to be accepted in the 21st century. The old things cannot continue like this," he told PTI.
Meanwhile, the Centre has asked the Kerala government to ensure peace across the state following protests against the Supreme Court order allowing women of all age groups to enter Sabarimala temple, officials said.
In an advisory, the Home Ministry said the maintenance of law and order, including providing security to women wishing to visit the temple, was the responsibility of the state government.
The Kerala government must ensure law and order and full compliance of the Supreme Court order allowing women of the menstrual age group to visit Sabarimala Temple of Lord Ayyappa, a Home Ministry official said.
The state government has been impressed upon the fact that it would be in direct contempt of the Supreme Court order if female devotees of any age are stopped from entering the temple, he said, quoting the advisory sent on October 15.
Another official said the Kerala government, in its communication, has assured the Centre that the apex court order would be implemented and the law and order situation at the pilgrimage site was under control.