Pampa, a religiously sensitive locality at the base of Sabarimala, has turned into a protest zone with assorted Hindu groups pitting themselves against the police to prevent women they suspect to be below the age of 50 from ascending the forested path to Sabarimala temple.
Nilackal, the entry point to the temple, has turned into a venue of protests by various groups that oppose the entry of younger women to the shrine. While the government is poised to implement the Supreme Court verdict, it has to be seen if women will actually enter the temple today.
The protestors accosted at least one woman, Madhavi from Andhra Pradesh, and turned her back along with her father and children on the ground that her age did not qualify her for entering Sabarimala as per the tradition.
The police identified the main anti-women groups as Ayyappa Dharma Sena and Save Sabarimala Forum. They had pitched camp in the locality despite the police declaring it a special zone on Tuesday to stymie any attempt to turn the Pampa river bank into a hotspot for political protests.
Chanting Ayyappa incantations, the agitators recurrently accosted women headed up the hill to the temple and challenged them to prove their age.
At least one woman Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) official was caught on camera showing her Aadhaar Card to the protestors to prove her age before they allowed her to proceed to the temple to attend to her official duties.
Nilackal has also emerged as a focal point of the increasingly hostile demonstrations against the State Government for its decision not to appeal the Supreme Court order upholding the right of women to worship at Sabarimala.
The base camp, twenty-two km downhill from Pampa and beyond which no private vehicle is allowed to proceed, has witnessed rancorous protests prompting police intervention since Tuesday.
The Congress and the BJP have organised separate prayer meetings and sit-ins at the spot. The police said the BJP was mobilising its cadres through WhatsApp groups. The police were in negotiations with BJP leaders to prevent the protests from spiralling out of control.
Meanwhile, State Police Chief (SPC) Loknath Behera has ordered more forces to Pathanamthitta and Sabarimala.
He has also ordered district police chiefs to prosecute those who attempted to stop and check vehicles ferrying pilgrims. Mr. Behera said Sabarimala was safe for all devotees.
A senior official said the agitators were pitting women in the forefront to dissuade police action. He told the SPC had placed women police battalions and a company of women commandos on standby for rapid deployment if and when the need arose.
Meanwhile, the police have started removing protesters in small batches from Pampa after recording their arrest formally.