Kochi: Gender activist Trupti Desai and six other women, who flew into Kochi on Friday to pray at the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala but were forced to remain at the airport for 13 hours, returned, but vowed to be back before January 20, when the temple doors close.
They returned to Mumbai by a flight at 9.10 pm. Before leaving, Desai termed her visit a success.
Their way had been blocked by hundreds of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Hindu activists, forcing them to remain holed up at the airport.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officers at the airport informed the media that she has decided to return from here on Friday night, as she does not want to create any issues in Kerala.
The news was greeted with cheers from the protesters, but they said they will vacate the airport premises only after her flight departs, later at the night.
The airport turned into a noisy protest site as Desai and her group arrived from Pune at around 4.45 am, with some 100 protesters shouting slogans and preventing her from leaving the complex despite police presence.
As the hours passed, the number of demonstrators, including top BJP leaders and activists, swelled and they virtually took charge of every entry and exit gates both inside and outside the airport.
Several rounds of talks with Desai with various officials failed to yield any result as she was adamant, and at one point of time, she even told the police that if they are unable to provide her security, she will manage on her own.
She then tried to reach out to the Kerala High Court by contacting legal experts. With time running out for the day and the court closed for the next two days, she informed the police that she will return, but vowed that she will be back.
She is likely to approach the Supreme Court about what happened to her here.
At one stage, the Cochin International Airport Ltd officials took a strong position that she has to either leave the airport or take a flight out from the airport.
BJP spokesperson Shoba Surendran said: "We will not allow her to leave the airport. Desai has got all the support from atheists like our chief minister who is determined to see that women get to visit the temple. She is nothing but an activist who has scant respect for the tradition of Sabarimala. So it's best that (Pinarayi) Vijayan sees that she is packed off from here at the earliest."
Meanwhile, speaking to the media from the Nilakkal base camp near the Ayyappa shrine, state Minister for Devasoms (which looks after temples) Kadakampally Surendran said Desai arrived in Kochi after intimating the prime minister and the chief ministers of Kerala and Maharashtra in writing.
Prior to her arrival, the activist had written to Pinarayi seeking police protection from the time she steps out of the plane at Kochi on Friday till she takes her return flight out of the state.
The temple doors opened at 5 pm for two months.
Rules regarding stay inside airport
Protest against Desai has sparked questions as to how long a passenger can stay on at an airport after arrival. In fact there is no law specifying such a time limit.
Departing passengers do have limits. International fliers are allowed to enter the airport three hours before departure, and passengers on domestic services two hours ahead of the scheduled flight. If anyone wants to extend the allowed time of stay, permission has to be obtained from security agencies and the director of the airport.
Arriving passengers are not bound by any such limit. Queries, however, normally fetch a direction from airport authorities that the passenger has to exit immediately.
At the same time, in the absence of a clear regulation, it's difficult to press a passenger arriving from another state to leave within a specified time. Airport authorities can seek police help if they feel the passenger is hanging on without reason and is a security worry.
A passenger can be expelled with the help of security agencies for resorting to violence. However, the airport faced a difficulty in proceeding against Desai as she risked violence by emerging from the terminal. All that the airport could do was inform the security agencies that the functioning of the airport has been affected. It is for the security agencies to decide what should be done.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple that hitherto banned girls and women aged between 10 and 50.
The apex court this week refused to stay its earlier verdict.