Ending an over 12-hour-long standoff with devotees opposing the entry of women in the menstrual age group into Sabarimala temple, a team of gender rights activists led by Trupti Desai on Tuesday night called off their decision to visit the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa.
Desai announced the decision to go back to Maharashtra after police, citing security reasons, denied them protection amid protests by devotees, members of a right wing outfit and Bharatiya Janata Party in Kochi, against their entry into the shrine.
"We had discussions with the police officers of the Kochi police commissionerate. Police told us that there is a threat to our life and will be insecure here.
"So we decided to go back but we will return to Sabarimala. We will continue our fight," Desai told reporters.
She also condemned the attack on activist Bindu Ammini, allegedly by a Hindu right wing activist outside the office of the commissionerate.
Desai reached Kochi early Tuesday along with five others to proceed to the Sabarimala temple to offer prayers.
She had announced that she would leave Kerala only after visiting Sabarimala.
The Kerala government dubbed Desai's attempt to visit Sabarimala as a 'conspiracy'.
As soon as the team of activists landed at the Kochi airport, they went to the city police commissionerate seeking protection to proceed to the hill shrine.
However, police declined to grant protection to them, citing the recent Supreme Court decision to review its 2018 order permitting women in all age groups into Sabarimala.
A large number of Ayyappa devotees, activists of the BJP and Sabarimala Karma Samiti gathered outside the commissionerate chanting 'Ayyappa Saranam' mantras
protesting against Desai's visit.
Activist from Kerala, Bindu Ammini, who had joined Desai's team at the airport, was attacked by a right wing group member using pepper spray when she came out of the office of the commissioner to take some papers from their vehicle, police sources said.
Visuals aired by TV channels showed her being attacked.
The man identified as Srinath Padmanabhan has been arrested, police said.
He has been charged with a non-bailable offence, they added.
Ammini, who was admitted to the general hospital in Kochi, has been discharged after treatment, her lawyer said.
The agitators ended the protest following assurances from police officials that the women activists would not be given protection to visit the temple.
The Pune-based Desai had made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the temple in November last year, weeks after the Supreme Court lifted the ban that prevented women and girls between the age of 10 and 50 from entering the famous shrine.
Scripting history, Ammini and Kanakadurga were the two women activists who had offered prayers at the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in January following the apex court order of September last year.
Reacting cautiously, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government condemned the attack on Ammini but made it clear that no women
in the age group of 10 and 50 would be given police protection to climb the holy hills unless they get an order from the Supreme Court in this regard.
Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran alleged conspiracy behind Desai's decision to visit Sabarimala.
"The government suspects a conspiracy behind Trupti Desai's decision to go to Sabarimala. She has come from Pune, a stronghold of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the BJP," the minister told reporters at Thalassery.
Surendran alleged the move was to create trouble during a peaceful pilgrimage season in Sabarimala.
Travancore Devaswom Board president N Vasu said the board was not informed about their plan to visit the temple.
Contending that the apex court has not stayed its 2018 order permitting women in the menstrual age group into the shrine, Ammini said they would file a contempt of court petition in the top court against the state government for not providing them police security to visit the temple.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who argued the Sabarimala case in the apex court, said the likes of Desai can only do excesses in the name of activism while the final verdict for Sabarimala temple was still pending before the apex court.
'At least the sentiment of people associated with the temple must be respected before final verdict assigns rights,' he said in a tweet.
Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala alleged 'conspiracy' by the CPI-M and the BJP to 'sabotage' the ongoing pilgrimage to Sabarimala temple.
"While Desai is having Sangh Parivar connection, Ammini is a supporter of the CPI-M. Both of them have come to climb Sabarimala hills. This is a move to sabotage Sabarimala pilgrimage," he alleged.
The senior congress leader also urged the government to take steps to maintain peace and sanctity of the temple.
The temple had reopened on November 16 just days after a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court referred to a larger bench the matter related to entry of women into the hill shrine and other issues related to various faiths.
Though the apex court did not stay its earlier order allowing entry of women in the Lord Ayyappa temple, the LDF government in Kerala this time said the shrine is not a ground for activism and made it clear that it would not encourage women who want to visit the temple for publicity.
On November 19, police had prevented a 12-year-old girl from Puducherry to proceed to the hill shrine from Pamba.
While two women in the barred age group of 10-50 years were stopped by police the previous day from visiting the shrine, on November 16, when the temple opened, at least 10 young women from Andhra Pradesh were sent back.
Thousands of devotees offered prayers at the Ayyappa temple when it opened for the annual Mandala-Makaravilakku puja, though police said 10 women were sent back from Pamba base as they were in the 'barred' age group.
The state and temple precincts had witnessed protests by right wing outfits and BJP workers last year after the LDF government decided to implement the apex court's verdict of September 28, 2018 allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the shrine.