2 days can be set apart for women to pray at Sabarimala Kerala govt tells HC

    Kochi, Nov 23 (PTI) Amid the stand-off over entry of women of menstrual age into the Lord Ayyappa temple, the Kerala government Friday informed the High Court that two days could be set apart for women pilgrims of all ages to offer prayers at the Sabarimala hill shrine.
    The suggestion was made when the court was hearing a petition moved by four women devotees seeking protection for women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine besides facilities for smooth pilgrimage in the wake of the recent Supreme Court judgement.
    In their PIL, the four women, in their 20s and 30s, suggested devoting two to three days exclusively to women of all ages "who are desirous to go to Sabarimala after ridding the shrine, its premises and nearby towns from the goons and henchmen" opposing entry of women of menstrual age into the shrine.
    The petition, filed by Reshma Nishanth, Shanila Sajeesh, Dhanya V S and Surya M, came up before a division bench, comprising Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice
A K Jayasankaran Nambiar.
    During the hearing, the state government, in line with the suggestion made by the women, informed the court that two days could be set apart for women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine during the pilgrimage season.
    The petitioners said they were ardent devotees of Lord Ayyappa and have been observing the customary "vritham" (the mandatory austerities for visiting Sabarimala) adorning the ritual chain and wearing black dresses after the Supreme Court pronounced its judgement opening the hill temple to all women irrespective of age.
    The petitioners said they very much wanted to go and pray at the shrine. But due to the protests by some people with the support of leaders of the BJP, the Congress and temple head priest, they could not enter the shrine, they alleged.
    They sought a directive to the government to ensure facilities and arrangements for smooth pilgrimage for all women and to provide adequate and sufficient protection to
them for entering the temple fearlessly and freely in compliance with the apex court judgment.
    Meanwhile, another division bench Friday ordered the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the shrine, not to divert funds to the state government without prior permission of the court.
    A bench of justices P R Ramachandra Menon and N Anil Kumar issued the order in the light of complaints that expenses for food and accommodation for the police deployed at the temple were met by the TDB.
The state government claimed that the expenses were met by the government. However, the TDB expressed its willingness to provide food and accommodation to the police at Sannidhanam, the temple complex.
    Hundreds of police personnel have been deployed in Sabarimala following protests by Ayyappa devotees opposing the September 28 apex court order.
    The temple was opened on November 16 for the over-two-month-long pilgrimage season amid tension. PTI COR TGB BN ZMN