Fifty-one female devotees in the age group of 10-50 years have entered the Sabarimala temple through an online process since the Supreme Court removed the bar on their entry in September last year, the Kerala government Friday told the apex court, kicking off a controversy.
The submission was made during the hearing of a plea filed by Bindu and Kanakadurga, the two women who had entered the temple on January 2, seeking security.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices L.N. Rao and Dinesh Maheshwari ordered the state to provide two of them round-the-clock foolproof security.
The list submitted by the LDF government in the Supreme Court, claiming that 51 women aged less than 50 have had darshan at Sabarimala temple this season has triggered a controversy following discrepancies related to age and gender.
The discrepancies came to light when media persons cross-checked the list of 51 young women. Some of the young women on the list were actually above 50.
But the most glaring misrepresentation was the case of Paranjothi, 47, who was listed as a female, 21st on the list. A TV crew traced Paranjothi who turned out to be a man and had gone to Sabarimala along with a group of 16 men. “I’m no woman, I’m gents (sic)”, he told the TV channel.
The Asian Age checked a mobile number given against the entry of Ms Gowri Arumugam, 49, from Chennai, on the list. The number belonged to Mr Rajesh, a businessman from Bengaluru. “I am distressed by so many calls. I am not Gowri. I was part of a 22-member group that booked online for the darshan. We had darshan on December 20. There were four women in the group and they were all above 50 years,” Mr Rajesh said.
Many numbers were switched off, possibly after the controversy surfaced. Reporters contacted a few others on the list who turned out to be men who had registered for darshan online on behalf of women devotees. In such cases, the women devotees could not be contacted individually to cross-check their age.
One Vasanthaiyya said his relative had gone to Sabarimala but her age is 59. Sreeramulu from Andhra Pradesh said his relative Ramadevi, 54, visited the temple.
Kalavathy Manohar of Vasco in Goa, whose name figured in the list, is a woman aged 52. Similarly, Hyderabad resident Padmavathy said that she is 53 and her age on Aadhaar was wrong.
While the government says the errors could have crept in while feeding the information digitally, many say the authorities should have verified the details before submitting the list to the Supreme Court.
Earlier at a press conference, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that 7,564 women had registered online for Sabarimala darshan. The reports received from the “Virtual Queue” system indicated that 51 women in the 10-50 age group visited the temple. We have no information whether all managed to have darshan at Sannidhanam,” he said.
However, in the affidavit the government stated, “It is submitted that a total of 7,564 women in 10-50 group had also registered for darshan and as per the digitally scanned records around 51 women in this group have already visited the shrine and had darshan without any issue.
The government submitted before the SC that in the digital queue management system run by Kerala police, which is an online system for advance booking for darshan, a total of 16 lakh devotees had registered this year. Of these around 8.2 lakh devotees visited the shrine.
Travancore Devaswom Board member K.P. Sankaradas denied the board had anything to do with the list. But he said such discrepancies were possible given the huge number of visitors.
Sabarimala Karma Samiti, which is spearheading the agitation at the hill shrine, and the Pandalam ex-royals rejected government’s claim. They alleged that there were several inconsistencies in the list.
The BJP, Congress and Pandalam family came down heavily on the government for making false claims.
BJP state president said the CPM-led LDF government was rolling out lies following their abject failure in handling the Sabarimala issue.
KPCC president Mullapally Ramachandran held the chief minister responsible for misrepresenting facts and submitting an incorrect and misleading affidavit. The government has become a laughing stock.
Narayana Varma, a member of erstwhile Pandalam royal family, said they were not aware of the circumstances under which the government submitted the affidavit.