Despite police presence, women journalists attacked near Sabarimala

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In a historic order, Supreme Court last month threw open the gates of Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala for women.

A number of incidents of violence had been reported through the day, with female pilgrims and journalists, harassed, heckled and assaulted by angry protestors.

Sabarimala thantri (chief priest) Kantararu Mohanaru has made an appeal to women between the ages of 10 and 50 not to make any attempt to visit the temple during the ongoing monthly pooja. Marakoottam is nearly 3/4th the way up but as the protestors created a human wall making it hard for her to proceed, she had to return.

The anti-women protesters surrounded the auto in which News18's reporter Radhika Ramaswamy was travelling and abused her verbally, asking her to turn back.

Right-wing Hindu groups attacked women journalists at an Indian hill temple yesterday, trying to prevent women of menstrual age entering for the first time in centuries, despite the presence of hundreds of police.

The groups, that include Shiv Sena, a former ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, say the prohibition on women "of menstrual age" is required to appease the temple's chief deity, Ayyappan, depicted as a yoga-practising god considered eternally celibate by followers.

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Activist Rahul Easwar, a front-ranking leader of the protesters and votary of the continuance of the tradition barring girls and women between 10 and 50 years from entering the temple, a custom which the Supreme Court overturned on September 28, was arrested at Pamba.

Earlier, a lone woman travelling to Sabarimala by bus was stopped at the bus stand near the gateway by protesters. Denouncing the attacks on media, he said cases were being registered against the suspects under sections relating to non-bailable offenses. Security arrangements in the surrounding areas have been tightened in the face of a strike called by the Sabarimala Samrakshana Samiti against the entry of women into the temple. A female reporter was also forced to get down from the bus.

BJP is supporting the bandh but the Congress is yet to take a decision on it. Congress leaders are set to approach the high command in Delhi to seek approval as it fears that the right wing outfits, including BJP and RSS, may hijack the emotional issue, denting its vote bank, especially the upper caste Hindus.

Kerala's tourism minister K Surendran appealed to protesters not to "convert this holy land into a battlefield".

Even as streets in Nilakkal and Pamba erupted in tumult, thousands of bare-chested Ayyappa devotees waited patiently in the vast concourse outside Sabarimala for its gates to open at the appointed hour - 5 pm. Though many women tried, but none from this age group could make it to the famed hilltop shrine.

Kerala´s state government said it would enforce the court ruling, deploying 500 extra police to ensure free access to the remote complex which is reached by an uphill trek that takes several hours.

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