Allegations of excessive use of force by Kerala police on Ayyappa pilgrims at Sabarimala have sparked outrage among devotees and the public, transcending political and religious affiliations. Reports indicate instances of indiscriminate police violence, leading to injuries and the hospitalisation of pilgrims.
The pilgrims have voiced concern over the alleged disrespectful behaviour of the police at Sabarimala, with tensions escalating particularly since the Left Democratic Front (LDF) regime, headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, assumed power in 2016.
These accusations range from verbal harassment to physical assault, with some pilgrims claiming they were beaten and manhandled by officers. The alleged incidents have ignited anger and frustration, leading to protests and demands for an impartial investigation.
Critics of the government and police maintain that the use of force is unnecessary and heavy-handed, especially considering the peaceful nature of most Ayyappa devotees. They argue that such actions only serve to alienate and antagonise the pilgrim community.
According to sources, on January 4, several pilgrims ascending the revered pathinettampadi (18 steps leading to the Sabarimala shrine) after 11 am were allegedly subjected to merciless beatings by the Kerala Police’s Reserve Battalion personnel on duty.
Among the victims is Dayanand from Thanjavoor, Tamil Nadu, who sustained serious injuries during the police intervention. The severity of his injuries necessitated admission to a hospital near the shrine, and due to the critical nature of his condition, he has been transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Dayanand reportedly suffered injuries to his chest and backbone, highlighting the gravity of the alleged police brutality.
In another distressing incident on January 7, S. Rajesh, a devotee hailing from Bengaluru, faced similar police violence while climbing the sacred steps. Rajesh, a member of a twenty-two-member pilgrim team, was reportedly beaten by the police around 4:30 to 5 pm. During the assault, he was ascending the steps with a six-year-old child, the son of another pilgrim. Rajesh claimed that the police attacked him, alleging that the child was moving too slowly. Despite his attempts to evade the assault by rushing upstairs with the child, he alleges that the police continued to follow and beat him on his back five times.
The brutality inflicted upon Rajesh is underscored by visible marks on his back, allegedly caused by the police officer’s nails during the attack. Rajesh has been admitted to a hospital near the shrine for medical treatment.
The incidents have triggered a wave of outrage, prompting A Ajikumar, a Member of Tiruvitamcoor Dewaswom Board, to intervene. Ajikumar reportedly engaged with Police Special Officer R Anand at Sannidhanam, the area near the sacred 18 steps, demanding action against the perpetrators. An inquiry by a Deputy Superintendent of Police was promised in response to Ajikumar’s plea. Subsequently, the Dewaswom Minister sought details from the Additional District Magistrate (ADM), who confirmed that a formal complaint had been filed by the affected pilgrim.
The troubling events at Sabarimala have reignited concerns about the treatment of Ayyappa pilgrims and the broader challenges surrounding the sacred site. Critics argue that the recent incidents echo the contentious attempts by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) regime, under Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan since 2016, to disrupt longstanding traditions at Sabarimala. In 2018-2019, the government faced widespread criticism for attempting to permit the entry of young women into the temple, challenging the age-old practice of restricting women aged 10 to 50.
Many view the recent episodes as part of a calculated effort to undermine the faith and weaken the cultural significance of the temple, alleging that the Marxist regime exhibits a form of fascism against Hindus. Critics argue that the government’s actions are part of a larger plan to erode Hindu traditions and values, contrasting sharply with the perceived favouritism towards religious minorities for political gains.
As public outcry grows, authorities are under increased scrutiny to address the alleged police brutality and ensure the protection of the rights and religious sentiments of Ayyappa pilgrims. The incidents at Sabarimala once again bring to the forefront the complex interplay between religious practices, government policies, and the preservation of cultural heritage.