Ernakulam: The controversy over women of menstrual age entering the Sabarimala temple hogged the limelight again on Sunday, after a brief interval, as protesters forced an 11-member team of women from Chennai to abandon its plan to visit the shrine.

The aborted attempt to enter the shrine came against the backdrop of the Supreme Court ruling against the age-old ban on women of childbearing age entering the shrine.

The women, from the Chennai-based rights outfit Manithi, reached the temple’s base camp, Pamba, in the wee hours. However, hundreds of protesters gathered chanting hymns of the deity Ayyappa, forcing them to return.

Earlier, several women were sent back by the protesters, including high-profile activists such as Trupti Desai who was not allowed to step outside the airport in Kochi when she landed in Kerala in November.

The protests forced the government to file a petition in the Supreme Court against admitting women before a review petition against overturning the ban is expected to be heard in the apex court next month.

The Manithi members started their journey from Chennai on Saturday night and faced protests throughout their way. They managed to reach Pamba, where hundreds of people had gathered to oppose their visit, defying prohibitory orders and creating a tense situation.

The women first attempted to trek through the traditional forest path to the temple, about 5km from Pamba, but could not go forward as devotees started namajapa (chanting of hymns of the lord) to protest against them. Clad in the customary black dress, the women then squatted on the road to the temple, insisting that they be allowed inside, with the police throwing a security ring around them.

The talks between the police and Manithi coordinator Selvi failed as she insisted that they would not return without darshan. At one point, the protesters even charged at the women, booing them and pelting them with stones, forcing them to take shelter. The police then moved the women to a safer location. Finally, as the number of protesters steadily increased, the group decided to abandon the trip and return to Chennai.

PTI contributed to this story.

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