Sabarimala Chief Priest Kandararu Rajeevaru has said that he will shut the temple and walk out if the Kerala Police continue to force their way into the temple with a woman’s rights activist and a female journalist.
“I have discussed this matter with the seniors of the family,” said the priest, “and have arrived at the decision that I will lock the temple, hand over the keys to the office and walk down the 18 steps,” he said.
According to the bylaws of the institution, the chief Tantric priest (Tantri) is authorized to open and close the temple.
Rajeevaru said he was not against the Supreme Court, but he cannot be party to what is being attempted at the location.
“I do not agree with this. I am with the believers,” he said.
He also said he will not wait for the women to enter the actual building, but will leave as soon as they lay their foot on the 18 steps leading up to the temple.
Today’s stand-off started after Kavita, an online journalist from Andhra Pradesh, approached the police yesterday evening saying that she wants to enter the temple and do reporting.
According to the traditional rules and customs of the institution, women between the age of 10 and 50 are not allowed to enter.
The police convinced her to postpone her climb up the 5-km long trail to the morning, and accompanied her in full riot gear in the morning.
Meanwhile, a woman’s rights activist from Kochi, Rehana Fatima, also joined in.
The posse found a group of around 200 devotees near the gate of the temple sitting and lying on the ground in an effort to prevent what they see as desecration of their holy place.
Faced with stiff opposition, Devaswom minister Kadampally Surendran said he had instructed the police to stand down.
He also clarified that the Supreme Court’s order was to facilitate female devotees of Ayyappa to pray at the temple “according to the customs and traditions”.
Inspector General Sreejith of Kerala Police said if the chief priest closed the temple, there was little he could do to ensure that the activists got their darshan.
“Darshan is something that the Lord should give, with the priests consenting,” he said.
The customs and traditions include the observance of a 41-day purification ritual involving abstinence from non-vegetarian food, violence, contact with women, wearing of black clothes, not hurting others in any way and so on.
Women’s activist Kushboo Sundar supported the stand taken by the minister.
She said the faith of the millions of devotees, including the women, should be given as much respect as the desire of the activists to enter the temple.
“It’s going to lead to a lot of heartburn. Why do it?.. What is driving them to go into it. You cannot rebel and say I want to go because it’s fashionable to do so… Are they entering as an activist or devotee,” she asked.
She said it cannot be seen purely as a women’s rights issue. “What about all the women who have been protesting there,” she asked.
The attempt by the police to force the entry of activists has led to anger among devotees, something that the government seemed to be cognizant of.
The police initially said that they will wait for the activists to make up their mind. However, after an hour or so, they said they are withdrawing, and will the “activists will come with them”.