‘I shall return’, says activist blocked at airport by Ayyappa devotees

A Sabarimala-bound social activist, who was stopped at the Kochi International Airport by Ayyappa devotees, took a flight back to Pune on Friday night saying she will return and visit the hilltop shrine where women pilgrims of menstrual age (10-50) are not allowed despite a recent court order lifting the centuries-old ban.

Talking to media after getting stuck at the airport for 13 hours along with fellow activists of Bhumata (Mother Earth) Brigade, Trupti Desai said although she could not visit the temple, her trip to Kochi was a victory as evidenced by the large crowd of Hindu protesters who converged at the airport.

Desai said she is not scared and running away. She said the protesters who blocked her from leaving the Kochi airport have no respect for women and they are not true devotees of Ayyappa.

Devotees continued chanting prayers until Desai boarded the flight.

Earlier, one woman devotee told media that Desai and her brigade have no faith in Ayyappa. The purpose of their mission was only to hog headlines by trampling on others’ beliefs, she said.

Another protester said if police offer Desai and her group all support to reach the inner sanctum of Sabarimala temple, the leftist provincial government’s agenda to destroy a Hindu belief would stand exposed.

A state unit leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), AN Radhakrishnan, said call details on Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s phone would reveal a secret deal between Desai’s Brigade and Vijayan’s Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Another BJP leader PK Krishna Das alleged that Desai came to Kerala as the chief minister’s guest. No one will be surprised if Vijayan’s government provides Desai and her team accommodation, food and travel free of cost, Das said.

Desai and her team arrived at Kochi airport by an Indigo flight around 4.40 am on Friday.  By then, some 50 Ayyappa devotees had started a sit-in protest in front of the airport.

Taxi drivers refused to ply her as they feared violent protests along the way from the airport to Kottayam town situated 65km from Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.

Desai arrived on the day the hilltop temple reopened for the two-month pilgrim season which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of devotees from all over India.

Police initially planned to move Desai and her group to a hotel in their own vehicle. But prayer-chanting protesters wanted Desai to go back to Pune instead of worsening the situation at the shrine by challenging a centuries-old religious practice and hurting devotees’ sentiments. Similar attempts by other young women days after the Supreme Court ruling had led to violent incidents near the temple, they argued.

Police held at least three rounds of informal talks with Desai requesting her to return home. But Desai refused to budge. She wanted to visit the temple at any cost.

An all-party meeting held on Thursday to discuss the entry of young women into Sabarimala and other issues failed to reach a consensus as the government said it would follow the Supreme Court’s order.

Opposition parties thought the government would dissuade young women from visiting the temple until the Supreme Court completes examining review petitions late in January.