High drama at Sabarimala as frenzied protesters try to block woman; TV cameraman injured

Sabarimala (Ker): In a tense showdown at Sabarimala in Kerala, about 200 frenzied devotees Tuesday tried to prevent a woman pilgrim from entering the hilltop shrine suspecting her to be of menstrual age and allegedly attacked a cameraman of a Malayalam television news channel.
Ignoring prohibitory orders, devotees and right wing activists gathered in huge numbers at Sannidhanam, the shrine complex, following which a senior state RSS leader addressed them using a microphone to bring the situation under control.
Though a rush of pilgrims is hardly witnessed during the annual “Sree Chitira Atta Thirunal”, the hill temple saw an unprecedented flow of devotees this time when it was opened for the two-day special puja Monday evening.
Clapping and chanting ‘Ayyappa saranam’, a huge crowd of devotees surrounded Lalitha Ravi (52), suspecting her to be of menstrual age, but police intervened and escorted her out.
The woman showed her Aadhaar card to them to prove she did not belong to the “traditionally barred” age group of 10-50 years though the Supreme Court has allowed entry of girls and women of all age groups.
Police later escorted her to the shrine to offer prayers along with her other women relatives.
Hailing from Thrissur, Lalitha came to the hill temple, which opened this morning, with 19 relatives, including women, for her grandson’s ‘chorunnu’ (rice giving ceremony).
Police at sannidhanam said a case has been registered against 200 “identifiable” persons in connection with the incident, based on her complaint.
When the situation went out of control, senior RSS leader Valsan Thillankeri, who has been camping at the shrine complex since Monday, pacified the angry agitators and asked them to maintain calm and cautioned against alleged “unruly elements”, who could intrude to create trouble at the hill shrine.
“The leadership has the responsibility to avoid any kind of untoward incident. That’s why I addressed the devotees. It was to help the police,” he later told reporters.
Valsan also courted a controversy for allegedly violating the key tradition of the Sabarimala shrine by climbing the sacred 18 steps without carrying the customary ‘irumudikkettu’ (sacred offerings to Lord Ayyappa) on his head.
TV channels aired visuals of the Sangh leader standing on the golden steps, leading to the sanctum sanctorum.
However, he rejected the charge and said he did carry the offerings while climbing the holy steps.
Scores of devotees shouted at Vishnu, the cameraman of a Malayalam TV news channel, as he was taking visuals of their protests. TV channels also aired visuals of some protesters hurling a plastic stool at the cameraman, who climbed up the sun-shade of a building to capture the protest.
The news channel also alleged that the agitators threw a coconut at him, which devotees offer to the deity.
Vishnu was seen handing over his camera safely to other journalists standing below the sunshade.
The police said no case has been registered so far in connection with the incident.
Girls below 10 years of age and women above 50 have frequently prayed at the Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple in the past.
However, the entry of women of all ages has become a sensitive issue after the September 28 Supreme Court verdict.