Kochi airport (Ernakulam): Chitra Ramaswamy from Palakkad district in Kerala got up from bed on Friday early morning, and switched on the pro-right news channel Janam TV first thing.
Since last night, the channel, which from the back rows became a front runner in viewership over the last month, was scrolling the flight number and the time of arrival of gender activist Trupti Desai in Kochi airport.
“I learned that she has arrived in Kochi. I just could not take it anymore. So we (the family) got ready in half an hour and drove to Kochi and participated in the protest," she said, squatting outside the airport 112km away from home, where she is for the first time.
Between Trupti Desai and history, there are hundreds of women like Ramaswamy and their families.
Desai, a gender activist who spearheaded campaigns to break several such women taboos based on religion in states such as Maharashtra, had come to Kochi on Friday to break the ban on menstrual age women in Sabarimala. The ban is practiced for ages, based on such a tradition, but was ruled as discriminatory by Supreme Court recently.
Desai knew the groundswell in favour of keeping the ban, and the public wrath against her visit, but was so keen on visiting the temple against all odds that she did not even book a return flight.
However, upon her arrival, she could not even step outside the airport because of large scale protests.
The ideological fervour of the conservative mob had changed the whole atmosphere of the airport, one of the most tightly secured sites in the region.
The parking ground which never allowed any vehicles other than cars who have undergone strict security clearance and paid a high parking fee, was taken over by hundreds of small and big vehicles which kept coming until evening.
The corridors rattled with loud, devotional chants in stark contrast against its usual silence and discipline.
Once, Desai waved at the crowd, and everyone jumped on their feet shouting in protest.
“If she comes out, she is finished," said a male protestor wearing the customary black dress of Sabarimala pilgrim. A while ago, one of the backers of the protests, Rahul Easwar, a popular television panellist, was telling a television channel live: “They are following Gandhian methods. They will not threaten or abuse anyone."
Padmaja S Menon thinks “activists" like Desai only want to enter the temple “to become an icon". Desai has also become a laughing stock among the devotees because of a list of demands she placed before the state while announcing her visit to Sabarimala. In a letter to chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, she asked the state to pay up even her taxi and hotel bills in the name of providing protection.
“Why are we alive if she succeeds? She will visit only after killing the last Hindu alive in Kerala," said Menon, who is the president of Mahila Morcha, BJP’s women’s wing in the district in which the airport lies, Ernakulam. She has been at the airport since 4 am and does not plan to leave until Desai returns.
For people like Menon, the continuity of the ban is a link with the past to assert the authority of the majoritarian religion amidst influential communists and significantly large minorities in Kerala. There are also those who seek in the emotional belief in the past, an ultimate meaning of life.
In front of their physical force and political muscle from Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress, the two main opposition parties backing the protesters, the police looks helpless.
A security officer at the airport, who did not want to be named, wonders what the state could do on the jungles on which Sabarimala lies, if it cannot provide security for a woman even in an ultra-modern place like the airport.
The terrain of the Sabarimala mountain is such that it will take hours from the base camp, some 20km away now, to reach the temple, after an arduous trek. The mob can easily outnumber the police officers, and cannot be dealt with excessive force in fear of sparking further religious tensions, he said.
By evening, Desai finally agreed to abandon her trip and return to home. “We had a meeting with police officials. They said this is becoming a law and order situation. People who are outside can come inside and attack us," she told Mint in a phone interview.
“They said that even if they give us protection we won’t be able to reach the temple given the size of the protests. They also said that the entire state will erupt in violence if we don’t drop our plan," she said.
After a day’s wrestle with the law, clearly, the faith ruled the land. It decided who will stay, and who cannot.