Devotees throng Indian flashpoint temple, but no women

Sabarimala row Strike called in Kerala after arrest of Sangh Parivar leader

Tens of thousands of pilgrims thronged one of Hinduism's holiest temples in southern India Saturday as it reopened amid high security, but women aged between 10 and 50 were absent despite a court order allowing them to enter.

In a phone interview from inside Kochi airport, where she and six other colleagues have been stuck since early morning owing to protests, Desai said the police had pleaded helplessness.

"Protests are being held outside the airport and the police have said that we can't go outside now", she told Reuters.

"We are at a standstill and now the situation is becoming even worse", said Mr Sasikumar Varma, a top representative of the Pandalam royal family that has been traditionally involved in the temple's management.

However, a huge number of protesters chanting Ayappa slogans outside the airport made her unable to leave for Sabarimala.

"Protestors threatened taxi drivers from providing us services.Hotel staff was threatened of damage to hotels if rooms were given to us".

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Desai announced that she will lead a group of women to Sabarimala shrine on November 17 and had approached the police for protection.

The temple opened Friday amid a tense standoff involving social activist Trupti Desai in Kochi and a move by its administrator to seek time from the Supreme Court to implement its verdict.

Babu Nambiyar, another member of the Samiti, said, "Kerala state government has submitted a review petition and the hearing is scheduled for January 22".

She has now arrived at the Cochin International Airport and has been inside since the morning, as the protesters have gathered outside the premises of the airport and are ready to attack the slain activist.

She added, "We were stopped at the airport".

Desai had spearheaded the campaign for women to be allowed into various religious places including Shani Shingnapur temple, the Haji Ali Dargah, the Mahalakshmi Temple and the Trimbakeshwar Shiva Temple. "We won't return until we have darshan", she said. However, she was stranded in the airport itself as protesters had gathered outside the airport to oppose her decision to visit Sabarimala. They also mentioned that the safety of others at the airport also had to be considered. "This time we went there after announcing, but the next time we won't announce that we're visiting, but will follow guerrilla tactics", she told ANI. "It is wrong to use gender discrimination in terms of the Sabarimala temple, because there are many temples in Kerala where men are also not allowed during certain periods".

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