The right-wing outfits opposing the entry of women of menstrual age at Sabarimala Lord Ayyappa temple have been accusing Kerala's Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of trying to implement its agenda in the guise of the 28 September Supreme Court verdict allowing entry to women of all ages at the hill shrine.
Widespread discrepancies found in a list submitted by the state government in the apex court on 18 January claiming that 51 women below the age of 50 had entered the temple during the two-month-long Mandala Makaravilakku festival season have further strengthened these allegation. The Sabarimala Karma Samithi which was at the forefront of the protest against women's entry has challenged the government's claim.
Samithi leader Rahul Easwar claimed they found 20 women above 50 when they cross-checked the list, while several others mentioned in the list did not visit Sabarimala at all. Discrepancies with regard to age and gender were also found when this reporter cross-checked the list.
Five of 15 persons on list, when contacted on the mobile number specified against their names, said they were above the age of 50 while two said they were males. Kalavathy, listed 48th in the list, turned out to be Shankar, a tempo driver from Puducherry who transports pilgrims to Sabarimala. Shankar does not know Kalavathi or any other women below the age of 50 who has travelled in his tempo during the 20 rounds he made to Sabarimala during the current season.
Similarly, Deivasigamani, listed as woman under the age of 50 was found to be a male named Balaji Deivasigamani from Villupuram in Tamil Nadu. Balaji, who visited Sabarimala along with 17 others, said he had produced documents to the police showing his gender as male while visiting the temple. Two other women on the list also turned out to be males in the investigation conducted by Mathrubhumi news channel and India Today TV.
Paranjothi, 21st in the list, told Mathrubumi, that his gender was wrongly recorded as female when he registered his name first time under the virtual queue system of the Kerala police. After noticing the error, he made another registration next day giving his actual gender. However, the police went by the first registration.
The India Today TV found Mayandi, a male from Chennai listed as a female under the name Kala in the list of 51 women submitted to the apex court by the government. In all, over 15 women in the list have been found to be above the age of 50 in the investigations conducted by various media persons.
They include Padmavathi Dasari (listed 1), K Sulochana (2), Ratnakumari (4) Sheela Venkatesan (24), Pattu Mahamani (30), Puspam (39) Chakkaramma (40), Sasikala (47) and Ramulumma (51). The contact numbers of a few persons in the list were found to be wrong while the phones of many others were switched off.
The government had submitted the list as part of a sworn affidavit in response to a plea filed by Bindu Ammini and Kanaka Durga, who entered the temple on 2 January, for security in a bid to prove that it had facilitated the entry of women as per the apex court verdict.
Interestingly, none from Kerala, including Bindu and Kanaka Durga, who are believed to be the first women below the age of 50 to enter the temple since the 28 September verdict, figure in the list, which contains 24 women from Tamil Nadu, 21 from Andhra Pradesh, 3 from Goa and 1 each from Karnataka, Puducherry and Goa.
The discrepancies in the list have come as a fresh ammunition in the hands of right-wing outfits which are opposing the entry of women between the age of 10 and 50 at Sabarimala against the government when the Supreme Court takes up the review petitions for hearing.
BJP president PS Sreedharan Pillai, who viewed the apex court verdict as a golden opportunity for the party to make inroads into the state, alleged that the government had submitted the 'fabricated' list to influence the review petitions. He said that the people in the list were asked to register by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) to bolster the Left's 'atheistic agenda' at Sabarimala.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition and Congress MLA Ramesh Chennithala has accused the government of misleading the Supreme Court. He has asked Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to explain why the government had submitted false information in the court, which had never asked for any such information.
"The government has submitted fake documents in the court in order to keep the tense situation over Sabarimala going for its political gains. This is not an appropriate practice by a democratically elected government. The chief minister should explain why the government has tried to mislead the apex court," the senior Congress leader said.
The Devaswom department has washed its hands off the list passing the buck to the police. Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that the list was prepared by the police department based on the information furnished by those who have used the virtual queue system of the police.
"The figure is that of women who had registered online for the pilgrimage. Many like Bindu and Kanaka Durga, who did not register online, may have visited the temple. A total of 7564 female pilgrims aged between 10 and 50 years had registered online. The 51 persons figuring in the list are those who have entered the temple," the minister said.
KP Shankaradas, member of the Travancore Devaswom Board which administers, the temple said they had no role in the preparation of the list. "The board has no system to check the age of devotees visiting Sabarimala. Hence, we are not in a position to comment on the veracity of the list furnished by the police," he added.
Narayana Varma, representative of Pandalam Palace, former custodian of the temple, said they were not aware of any women below 50 other than the two from Kerala entering Sabarimala. "I was present at the Sannidhanam throughout the season. I have not seen any women offering prayers, Varma said adding that the government's claim could be a lie.
Easwar has termed the list submitted by the state government a constitutional lie and demanded action against those who have misled the Supreme Court. He said that the fake list was part of the government's attempt to normalise the entry of women of menstrual age in Sabarimala.
"This will not succeed. All Ayyappa devotees are against breaking the customs and rituals in Sabarimala. We will bring the sentiments of the devotees to the notice of the Supreme Court. We are confident that the Constitution Bench will consider it and review the verdict," said Rahul, grandson of former Sabarimala chief priest (thantri).
With the pilgrim season coming to an end today, the protestors who unleashed a reign of terror in the state over Sabarimala have turned their attention to the Supreme Court for the next course of their action. If the court upholds the majority decision of the constitution bench, Sabarimala will remain as a conflict zone for a long time to come.