The doors of the famed Sabarimala Temple temple in Kerala may have officially opened for one and all, including women between 10 and 50 years of age, for the first time in centuries, as per the instructions of the Supreme Court, but following a tense day full of attacks on women and especially women journalists it was not to be as the right to pray was denied by force.
By 5 pm, when the Temple opened its doors, the surrounding areas of Nilakkal and Pamba base camp had witnessed numerous charges by both protesters, and belatedly, by the police. Until then, and for most of the day, mobs had a free run, performing searches on buses for women, blocking their passage, intimidating them, and unleashing terrifying attacks on women journalists.
Republic TV's South Bureau Chief Pooja Prasanna was among those who were attacked, her car surrounded by a 100-strong mob who banged their hands against it, shoved their faces into every transparent surface, leered inwards, shouted obscenities, intimidated, vandalised, stole equipment and more. The attack on Pooja continued even as she sat inside a police van, with nearby police personnel also quaking in their boots, their lathis snatched away. Finally, and once again, women protesters ambushed her, grabbed her throat and hit her. News Minute's Saritha Balan also faced physical violence at the hands of a mob and recounted the tale to Republic TV, the description of the abuse and kicks she faced positively spine-chilling.
The Police's crackdown came too little too late. They arrested 'Save Sabarimala' campaigner Rahul Easwar who had until then been relentlessly drawing attention to the protests while attempting to give it a non-violent veneer. He was detained after allegedly protesting the presence of women constables at Pamba base camp. Earlier, he had been confronted by Pooja Prasanna on live TV and called out for his politics and what they had caused. Then, with less than an hour to go for the temple doors to open, the police launched into a stern lathi-charge against the protesters who had attacked women devotees. The protesters took to stone-pelting but were eventually scattered or detained. However, by then, it was too late to undertake the 5-hour-long trek up to the Temple and join the first lot of devotees to enter.
Through it all, the Kerala government was nowhere to be found. With Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Dubai, there was little enforcement of his assurance from just a day earlier that arrangements had been made for devotees to go to the temple. When questioned about the attack on Republic TV's Pooja, other ministers either deflected or immediately blamed the RSS.
With the shrine now open for another five days, it remains to be seen if one and all will be able to exercise the right to pray. The protestors have stated their intent to keep it going for the entire duration, following which they want a review petition to be heard by the Apex court. At the point the temple closes for the month, it'll only be in November that women between 10-50 will get their next chance.