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Cithara Paul
Cithara Paul

Faith or Equality

Sabarimala hires women staff to stop activists' entry

58Sabarimalatemple (File) Women pilgrims above the age of 50 at Sabarimala | Nikhilraj

Anticipating the forced entry of women activists into the Sabarimala Temple's sanctum sanctorum, the shrine's custodian, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), has requested police chiefs of all states to be on alert to avoid any untoward incidents.

The temple, for the first time, has also appointed its own women staff, apart from additional women police officers, to screen and block any woman activist who is trying to enter the temple covertly.

The Sabarimala Temple, which is thronged by as many as 3 crore pilgrims every year during the pilgrimage season—which is usually in December and January—had been in controversy for quite some years, courtesy its ban on women.

The temple, which is open to all irrespective of their religion, shuts its doors to females aged between 10 and 50. The intention is to ban menstruating women from entering the sanctum sanctorum where the deity is believed to be a Naishtika Brahmachari (in a celibate disposition).

Many activists claim this ban on women is a violation of human rights and have approached the Supreme Court seeking remediation. The matter is at present in the Supreme Court, which has in turn referred it to a constitutional bench.

Even as the matter is being considered by the Supreme Court, many women activists, including Trupti Desai of the Bhumata Brigade who had secured entry into Shani Shignapur Temple in Maharashtra and Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai, have vowed to enter the temple. It is in this background the TDB has decided to take extra measures.

“The TDB has taken all precautions to stop the entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum. We are constantly in touch with all state police chiefs to avoid any untoward incidents,'' TDB chief A. Padmakumar told THE WEEK.

According to him, as many as many as 174 women, who are in the menstruating age group, who were trying to enter the sanctum sanctorum had been blocked in this season alone.

When asked whether these women were activists or believers, he said some were pilgrims who were not aware of the the ban on women while some came deliberately to violate the unwritten rule, which has been in existence for ages.

“Taking all these into consideration, we have also deputed our own women staff above 50 years of age, apart from the women police officers, to screen the women pilgrims,'' he said.

The TDB chief said that it is the duty of the board to see to it that the traditions and customs are followed until a decision is taken by the Supreme Court.

Padmakumar insisted that the restrictions regarding the entry of women into the Sabarimala shrine is not a feminist issue.

“Women devotees are allowed in all other Ayyappa temples, except Sabarimala. And this ban is only because the deity in Sabarimala is a Naishtika Brahmachari. All believers must show the conviction to accept this truth,'' he said.

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