The government of Kerala told the Supreme Court that 51 women of menstruating age had entered the Sabarimala temple since a landmark top court order in September 2018 scrapped the decades-old ban on such devotees from offering prayers at the hill shrine. Until now, it was known that just two women devotees of menstruating age – Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga – had entered the temple on January 2, triggering violent protests across the state.
Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria’s submission before the SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, came on a plea by the two women devotees seeking adequate hearing. The court ordered round-the-clock security for the two women, who have gone into hiding since violence broke out in the state two weeks ago. Hindu groups, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have opposed the entry of women of menstruating age, blaming the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) government of disrespecting traditions.
Hansaria made an attempt to widen the scope of the petition by mentioning that 51 women (of menstruating age) have entered the temple, indicating the state was implementing the top court verdict in full spirit. The bench, however, retorted: “We are not concerned whether there were 51 or 500. You have made your point. We do not deem it necessary to entertain anything further.”
Hansaria offered to forward the list of women devotees but the court rejected it. The figure was, however, questioned by the lawyers appearing for “Lord Ayyappa Devotees”, referring to the presiding deity of the shrine.
The senior counsel defended the state’s role in giving security to the two women.“Excellent then! Give them full protection! You are responsible for their life and safety! We will direct that the petitioners be given security…If you are already doing that without the court’s intervention, then keep doing it. And we do not feel necessary to comment on any other matter,” the CJI observed.
The bench directed police protection and refused to entertain other prayers made by the women, including a direction to stop the temple authorities from conducting purification rite that was carried out post their entry. “We deem it appropriate to close the present writ petition by directing that the state shall accord adequate security to the petitioners round-the-clock. Security would be provided round the clock. Beyond the above we do not consider it necessary to go into any other issues,” said the court, dismissing senior advocate Indira Jaising’s request to tag the women’s petition with the review petitions, which shall be heard in open court.
In Kerala, opposition parties criticised the government and alleged that the list of women had mistakes. “It is shameful the government stooped to such a level,” said senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said. “A wrong statement was given to influence the verdict on review petitions,” said BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai.
Some of the women, and their relatives, mentioned in the list also said their ages were not recorded correctly. Padmavati Dasari, a resident of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, said she was 55 but her age in the government list was 48. Chinta Kalavati’s nephew Gopal said his aunt’s age was 52.
“We have no idea how her age was reduced to 43,” added Gopal, a resident of Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu. The list, which was circulated by the state government and contained the names, ages, addresses and phone numbers of the devotees, contained no resident of Kerala.
The list was released by state devasom minister Kadakampally Surendran, who explained that neither Bindu Ammini nor Kanaka Durga figured in the list because they did not apply through ‘virtual queue’, an online system to control rush during the annual pilgrimage. The government denied the allegations and said the devotees were scared, and were trying to protect their loved ones.“It is a survival instinct. They have seen the volume of violence here and are scared to speak up,” said Travancore Devasom Board member Shankar Das.