Sabarimala row: Angry protesters attack 4 women journalists, auto smashed

Sabarimala to open today Kerala braces for law vs faith standoff

Mob attempts to block first entry of women of menstruating age to sacred Hindu temple

The hill shrine of Sabarimala in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district opened on Wednesday as protests against the entry for women devotees of menstrual age turned violent.

A Padmakumar, president of Travancore Devasom Board (TDB), the custodian of Sabarimala temple, said that there are no facilities for women devotees, adding that anybody who comes to pray will be allowed inside.

Amid chanting of "swamiye saranam Ayyappa" mantras, the "melshanti" (chief priest), Unnikrishnan Namboothiri and "tantri" (head priest), Kandaru Rajeevaru opened the portals of santum sanctorum of the shrine at 5.00pm and lighted the ceremonial lamp.

Footage from CNN NEWS 18 showed police chasing protesters through dense forest near Nilakkal, the main entry point to the temple, which is about 18 km (11 miles) further away.

The Supreme Court had on September 28 passed a historic judgement lifting the ban on entry of girls and women of menstrual age into the temple, a verdict that was hailed by rights activists but opposed by traditionalists. She had to be escorted back by police.

Devotees of Lord Ayyappa who have gathered at Nilakcal said, "We are facing problems as administration is not giving clear answers on when doors will open".

While most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating, the Sabarimala temple is unusual in that it is one of the few that does not allow women in a broad age group to enter at all.

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Ten minutes into their trek, accompanied by a strong police force, the family had to abandon their plans of praying to the Lord Ayyappa inside the temple premises accompanied by Madhavi, who is in the prohibited age group of 10-50.

Hours ahead of the opening of the hill shrine for the monthly prayers, police said they would not let anyone block the movement of people.

Right wing outfit, "Antharashtriya Hindu Parishad" led by Pravin Togadia and the "Sabarimala Samrakshana Samithi", an outfit of devotees, called for a 24-hour strike, starting from midnight. "This has not happened in the history of Sabarimala, they are turning it into a battlefield", K Surendran said. The goons also vandalised the camera equipment that the crew was carrying.

The TV journalist was sitting in her vehicle when the protestors surrounded her auto and blocked her from entering the temple. They were able to return to the spot after additional policemen were deployed in the area.

Besides private vehicles, devotees even stopped and inspected Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses and asked young women to get off them Tuesday. "The Congress has joined the BJP in trying to drive a wedge between the devotees and the government and they are trying to break the secular tradition of our state", he said. Clashes between police and protesters have also been reported, but nobody has been hurt.

For the LDF government, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reiterated the resolve to punish anyone taking law in his/her hands and ruled out filing a review petition since the government is committed to gender equality.

The incident happened despite the heavy deployment of police personnel in and around Pamba.

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