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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Security breach at Sabarimala temple

There has been a breach of security protocol at the famous Sabarimala shrine in Kerala. Two men riding a scooter managed to reach as close as 200 meters to the temple, which is currently under lockdown. There is protest amongst the devotees who allege the Kerala govt. and police have not taken the issue seriously. This in spite of multiple intelligence reports of terrorists planning something spectacular in Kerala temples.

Vipin Varghese of Niravel House and Sreejith of Krishna Vilasam riding a scooter were stopped by Forest Department officials but were later released. It has to be noted here that the Temple is deep inside the Periyar Tiger Reserve and is a high alert zone. What is strange is the fact that the two men were let go and charged with trespassing only, even though there were inconsistencies in their statement.

Sabarimala temple is the abode of Bhagwan Ayyappan, the son of Bhagwan Shiva and Mohini, an incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu. Situated at an altitude of around 4000 feet above sea level, it is out of bounds for a major part of the year and opens during late winter towards mid-November and closes towards the end of January. It is also open for a few days during the first week of each month of the local calendar. 

This breach of security follows a long history of vandalism and suspicious activity in and around the temple, to the dismay of devotees who flock to the temple from all corners of the world. Fanatic Christian missionaries and their backers in both the ruling Communist party and the Indian National Congress have long played a role in desecrating the temple.

In its heyday, there were close to 5 crore devotees visiting the shrine during the annual two-month-long pilgrimage. Those numbers have come down dramatically since the current regime came to power and unleashed their fury on the devotees. The Supreme Court of Bharat too has played a significant role by entertaining petitions from non-devotees to upturn the ancient practise of menstruating-age women staying away from the temple, before later referring the matter to a larger bench after multiple petitions were filed challenging their decision, following public fury especially that of women devotees.

The two accused reaching Sannidhanam have set a wrong precedent showing that anyone can reach there as and when they please and also shows a total lack of apathy from the security apparatus. That they were able to drive up the hill which devotees can only climb on foot makes the whole incident suspicious. No vehicles are allowed from the river Pamba to the temple which is a five km trek, not even police vehicles. Domesticated animals carry loads up the hill.

Being a forest zone, multiple agencies regularly comb the area for criminal activities. The Police department is in charge of crime, the Excise department checks for drugs and illicit liquor, and the Devaswom Board guards are in charge of the security around the temple vicinity. These combing operations are supposed to happen all year long. Apparently, this did not happen or the accused were helped by the very same officials guarding our forests, and more importantly a major shrine in south Bharat. 

The two accused are locals, living barely 30 km from Sabarimala near Chittar. The accused said that they were on the way to Thekkady and that they were using Google Maps for directions. There are no roads to Thekkady via Sabarimala, which can be confirmed by anyone using the same Google maps. Hence it is hard to accept their justification that they reached there ‘by mistake’, especially since the accused are locals. There are also allegations that local panchayat members from Chittar and the police are now working in tandem to shift the blame squarely on the forest department.

All major roads reach Attathodu from where vehicles travel a winding road to reach the river Pamba which is 15 km away. The road ends at Pamba and it is from here that pilgrims start their trek to Sabarimala, and use the same walking route to come back. Parts of the Pamba-Attathodu road were washed away during this year’s monsoon fury and repairs have not been done yet. 

There is a police check post at Attathodu which checks each and every traveler’s ID Card and Pass (only government or Sabarimala employees usually go beyond this point now) compulsorily during the Sabarimala offseason. This is where the first serious lapse occurred. At Pamba, there is a police station manned throughout the year, where the second breach took place. 

From there the pilgrims take a bath in the river and then pray at a Ganapathy Temple barely 200 meters away. Here there is another forest check post directly facing the Devaswom guard room. Ladies in the restricted age group (10 to 50) are stopped here and are asked to either turn back or wait for the other devotees in their party to come back. As mentioned, the trek starts here and eventually ends at the holy abode Sannidhanam, some five km away. 

That the accused rode past all these guards and police is baffling, to say the least. They were ultimately spotted by Forest officials stationed barely 200 meters from the Sanctum Sanctorum, and now it seems all blame is being transferred only on those forest officials. There are also security cameras installed throughout the route. This shows that one of our holiest temples, which has been on the radar of violent anti-Hindu forces for decades, is vulnerable from a security perspective.

There was a sense of deja vu amongst devotees who had seen the temple destroyed with only the four pillars remaining back in the year 1950. The perpetrators then were reported to be six rich fanatic Christian Catholic converts who paid others to burn down the temple. They not only succeeded in turning the temple to ashes for a pittance of Rs. 100 but went unpunished. It was also found that a Christian forest department guard was actually the one who provided cover for the fanatics. Like today, even during those days criminals and fanatics could get away using their clout and their secular victimhood card. 

Surprisingly, no local channels discussed the current serious security breach. Some reports did surface in neutral print media following which devotees shared  the same on their social media accounts. The Special Branch of the police slowly woke up from its slumber and is now investigating. 

Unless the whole security apparatus is handed over immediately to central forces like is being done in Vaishno Devi, Badrinath, or Kedarnath, followers of Hindu Dharma are in for a rude shock in the near future. It would also augur well to arrest the accused and probe any conspiracy angle behind the whole incident. Were they on reconnaissance duty?

The fact that the temple sits atop hills where Christian fanatics have encroached the surrounding forest lands and have settled at the base. Unless security is strengthened, anything untoward could happen in the temple during the coming peak season.

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