Protesters have been targeting women under 50 who attempt the trek to the Sabarimala temple.
Bindu and Kanakadurga, the two women in their 40s, who created history by defying threats from right-wing organisations and offered prayers at Kerala's Sabarimala temple, on Thursday dismissed the allegations that they were playing into the hands of police and the government. They also said their aim was to offer prayers at the temple and they achieved it without facing any trouble from the devotees.
"All the pilgrims going to Sabarimala were very cooperative. We never had any problem from other devotees. We trekked down safely from the shrine," Ms Kanakadurga said.
The shrine, which was out of bounds for girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age, on Wednesday saw the breaking of centuries-old tradition, when the 42-year-old Bindu and 44-year-old Kanakadurga visited it under police protection.
In an exclusive interview given to Manorama channel, Ms Kanakadurga said, "Going to Sabarimala was my own decision."
Dismissing the conspiracy angle that the two women were playing into the hands of police and the government, the women said they "used" the police machinery to enter Sabarimala on the basis of the September 28 Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine dedicated to Lord Ayyappa. "We do not know whether chief minister had any role in our reaching the shrine," they said.
"We are a group of like-minded people. That's why we have come together to trek the temple. Police or political party agenda, as was being alleged by the BJP and others, is baseless," she said. When asked whether they were devotees or activists, Ms Kanakadurga said that an activist can also be a devotee.
"Activists are also devotees. If some activist wants to visit a temple, they can. The September 28 verdict of the Supreme Court allows all women to go, whether they are activists or devotees," she said.
Bindu told the channel that they were adamant and wanted to visit the shrine after failing in their first attempt on December 24 when they were forced to return due to violent protests. "If we had gone back to our respective homes, we were sure that we may never visit Sabarimala. So we sought help from the police and SPs from two districts," she said.
Dismissing the allegations that they have political affiliations, Bindu said those who oppose the entry of women into Sabarimala have always labelled as "Maoists" the women who attempted to trek the hills.
”I am not affiliated with any political party or organisation now. I have left all those years back. I was part of the CPI(ML)'s Central Committee and later resigned owing to differences. I am not part of any organisation now," she said, adding that she was a key speaker at a BJP event on Human Rights Day years ago.
When asked about her family's support, Bindu said she has the backing of her husband Hariharan on every issue, including Sabarimala, and he had even accompanied her till Sannidhanam (temple complex). When asked about her mother's criticism for undertaking the trip to Sabarimala, Bindu said her mother has got all rights to express her views. "My mother and brother have all the rights to say that women should not enter Sabarimala. This is a democratic country. They can express their views and rights. They are entitled to their views," she said.
Meanwhile, a top police official confirmed to PTI that at least 20-30 anti-Maoist commandos escorted the women to the shrine. However, it was not clear from where the police escorted them.
Clashes broke out in Kerala, a day after the two women entered the Sabarimala temple, infuriating right-wing outfits, with protesters blocking roads by placing burning tyres and granite blocks, and clashes leaving 31 police personnel and many others injured.
The dawn to dusk shutdown called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of various pro-Hindutva groups, and the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), plunged the state into turmoil, as hundreds of Hindu right-wing activists disrupted vehicular movement and vandalised shops and offices of the ruling CPI(M).