Portending violent protests when the Sabarimala temple opens for the two-month long ‘mandalam-makaravilakku’ pilgrimage season next week, a total of 550 women in the age group of 10 to 50 are believed to have signed up for darshan through the online booking facility of the Kerala Police.
Every year during the festival, the Kerala Police operates the ‘virtual queue’ system similar to the Tirupati temple through which pilgrims can select the date and time of their choice when they could have darshan of the deity at Sabarimala. This system was put in place a few years ago to control and channel the huge crowds that stream into the temple especially during this period.
The opening of the virtual queue system this year comes barely two months after the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on the entry of women of all age groups at Sabarimala. The two times the temple opened in the last 2 months, there were violent protests and agitation by activists of right-wing groups against the verdict. Till date, no woman in the previously restricted age group has been able to climb the hill.
Close to 3.5 lakh people have registered in the last few days alone through the virtual queue system, 40,000 of them have booked bus tickets of Ksrtc from Nilakkal to Pamba, the two base camps of the hill shrine.
However, the police are not sure about the identities of the 550 ‘women’ who have registered through the facility. Since the website does not ask for an identification proof, it cannot be ascertained if these people are indeed who they claim to be.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Supreme Court which will hear the review petitions filed against its verdict on November 13, just a couple of days before the temple’s reopening. The present government has made it clear that it will do everything possible to implement the ruling of the top court and ensure safety and security of women devotees. Both the opposition BJP and the Congress have set off street protests and agitations against the stand of the state government.
With the mandalam festival expected to draw crores of pilgrims, the police are readying up massive security arrangements, including demanding special vehicle passes which carry devotees. Drivers of these vehicles have to register themselves with the local police to get the required passes. Vehicles carrying pilgrims from neighbouring states can get passes from any police station in the state. Only those with passes would be allowed to park at the designated spot at Nilakkal, situated 25 kms from Pamba, the base of Sabarimala.