New Delhi: The Sabarimala foothills on Sunday again witnessed high voltage drama after a group of 11 Tamil women devotees tried to trek hilltop shrine. The women were forced to leave as hundreds of devotees blocked paths and chased women. Police took two dozen protesters into custody.

The women aged between 10-50 years had reached Pamba town at 5.30 a.m. and were seen squatting for hours till 11 a.m. demanding police protection to ascend the hill. Reaching the base town at dawn, the group was parked on one side of the pathway leading to the temple while the protesters raised slogans, determined not to allow passage to the women to go up.

They kept sloganeering and menacingly approached the group threatening them to go away.  Immediately hundreds of the others protesters came rushing down the pathway forcing the police and the Tamil women to flee to safety.

The group was given shelter inside a police vehicle near Pamba. “They have decided to return to Madurai and we will give them security for their return,” said police. (Also Read: Sabarimala Row: Kerala Govt Files Affidavit in HC, Says Police Not Involved in Provocation of Violence)

Notably, women, in the age group of 10-50 years, are traditionally barred from entering the Sabarimala temple. But the Supreme Court, through its September 28 landmark verdict, lifted the curb and permitted women of all age groups to offer prayers at the temple.

Commenting on the incident, the state unit of the BJP said what happened on Sunday was a CPI-M sponsored event and that the Kerala government should order a probe to find out who was behind the “conspiracy.”

BJP leader Sobha Surendran has launched a hunger strike against the repeated instances of a woman being blocked from entering the Sabarimala temple despite the Supreme Court verdict that overturns the century-old ban on women’s entry into the shrine.

Meanwhile, activist Rahul Easwar termed the development as “huge” victory for the Lord Ayyapaa devotees.

Before Selvie’s group, around two dozen other women have already tried and failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple even after the top court’s verdict on September 28 allowing women of all ages to enter the temple.

“We will give our lives to protect the customs and traditions of the Sabarimala temple. Under no circumstances will these women be allowed to go up the hill,” an angry devotee said on Sunday, as hundreds of others echoed the same.

State Minister for Devasoms (Temples) Kadakampally Surendran told the media that the final decision on Sabarimala rests with the Kerala High Court-appointed three-member committee.

A spokesman for the Pandalam Royal family, the custodians of the Sabarimala temple jewellery, P.S. Varma said, “Things have been quiet in the temple town. The entry of Tamil group has led to tempers going up.”

“One can suspect that there has been some sort of a conspiracy with the arrival of this group of women. One wonders if these women are real devotees. What is even more baffling is this has happened when important rituals attached to the temple ahead of the Mandalam puja have started today,” the spokesman said.

On Friday night, a 43-year-old woman devotee from Andhra Pradesh, who came along with a group of pilgrims to offer prayers at the Ayyappa temple, was stopped and sent back by police midway, citing security reasons. Earlier this week, four transgenders were stopped from proceeding towards the shrine and asked to come back dressed as men. However, they managed to offer prayers at the hill shrine under heavy police security cover.

Kerala had witnessed massive protests by devotees opposing the entry of girls and women in the 10-50 age group into the Sabarimala temple since the state government decided to implement the Supreme Court order.

Marking the culmination of the 41-day ‘vratha’ (penance), Mandala Puja, the first phase of the Sabarimala pilgrimage, would be held on December 27 at the Lord Ayyappa temple. In recent days, the shrine has witnessed a steady inflow of pilgrims as the police had eased certain restrictions even as the prohibitory orders are still in place.

Earlier this month, the Kerala High Court had appointed a three-member committee, vesting them with powers to oversee law and order and other problems faced by pilgrims during the ongoing annual season.