Thiruvananthapuram: Protests by hundreds of devotees at the entrance of Sabarimala temple forced the two women climbing to the hill-top shrine amid tight police security to call off their journey. The intensified protests by devotees and priests forced the women to turn back 500 metres from the temple. Also Read - Sabarimala Temple Prepares To Reopen For Annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku Season, Kerala Govt Urges to Follow COVID-19 Protocols

Journalist Kavitha Jakkal of Hyderabad-based Mojo TV and Fathima, devotee from Kochi, began their descend towards Pamba foothills of the temple. The two women were by accompanied a 100 policemen led by Inspector General of Police S Sreejith. Also Read - Sabarimala Temple to Reopen For 5 Days From October 16 Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, 250 People Allowed in a Day

In a never-before move, around 30 employees attached to the temple tantri and the chief priest went on protest as they stopped their rituals and sat down in front of the hallowed 18 steps leading to the sanctum santorum and sang Ayyappa hymns after they heard that the two women were about to reach the shrine. Also Read - SP Balasubrahmanyam Health: Sabarimala Temple Performs Musical Puja For The Recovery of Renowned Singer

IG Sreejith asked the protesters to disperse and make way for the women to visit the Sabarimala Temple. However, the protesters refused to relent and said that they would die but now allow women of menstrual age to enter the shrine.

Sreejith told the media that he had a word with the temple tantri who categorically told him he would be forced to close down the temple if there was any violation of tradition and faith.

“So we told the two women about it and they also decided to abandon their trek and return, asking for protection till they reached home,” Sreejith said, adding that would be provided. “So we are taking them back.”

However, Kerala Minister of Devasoms, Kadakampally Surendran told the media here that they have come to know that the two women were actually activists.

“After coming to know that, it becomes our duty to protect the rights of the devotees and not that of activists.

“Our request to women activists is not to ply their trade in hallowed places. The police should have been more cautious. They should have found out more about these women. The state government is duty-bound to protect the rights of the devotees,” said Surendran.

Meanwhile, Fathima’s house in Kochi was vandalised by angry devotees.

“We have just come here after hearing about the damage caused to her home. We do not know if there were other residents around,” said a police official.

Fathima works with the BSNL in Kochi and lives with her partner. Both had started out for the temple.

“There are no separate rule of law for activists, or others. There is only one law. She is not an activist and she has the right to go and pray as per the apex court directive,” said Fathima’s partner who is a news producer, who along with his team is present at the protest venue.

BSNL has issued a statement saying it was not connected with Rehana Fathima’s action, who is a staff of their Ernakulam Business Area.

“Outside BSNL premises, Rehana Fathima alone shall be fully responsible for her action in her own personal capacity outside the normal business hours.

“This is in no way related to the written assigned official responsibilities, as per BSNL conduct and service rules and regulations,” the statement said.

Kavitha termed it a “victory” and said that if police give her security, she would come back to the shrine again.

Meanwhile, another 46-year-old woman named Mary Sweety was forced to return midway after she was stopped by protesters in Pamba. “I don’t know about them (Kavitha and Fathima). If women have returned it is your drawback. I want to go there,” she said.

Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam summoned police chief Loknath Behra to his office and spoke to him about the overall situation.

Devasom Minister Surendran spoke to state CPI-M Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and lashed out at the state government and Sreejith for violating the Kerala Police Act Rule 43.

“According to the Rules, none other than a police official can use their dress or their equipment. We wish to know how come Sreejith allowed the two women to use police uniform and helmet.

“This destroys the sanctity of the Sabarimala temple. We warn the Kerala government not to try tricks to forcefully impose the apex court verdict,” said Surendran.

The temple opened its doors on Wednesday for the first time since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women from the 10-50 age group to enter the famed shrine.

On Thursday, there was a dawn-to-dusk shutdown across Kerala called by outfits owing loyalty to Hindu groups and the BJP.