State Human Rights Commission member P Mohana Das said though the government could not be fully blamed for the lack of facilities at Sabarimala, it could not be denied that the Kerala Police were subjecting innocent devotees to inhuman treatment.
“We had come across a group of 25 devotees who had trekked all the way from Oachira. When they gathered for their Namajapa prayers at Sannidhanam, the police asked them to leave. These devotees were not allowed to pray. This was nothing but cruelty,” Mohana Das, who was in Sabarimala on a fact-finding mission, told Onmanorama on Wednesday. He was in Sabarimala on November 20 as part of the visit of the State Human Rights Commission.
A restriction he termed 'inhuman' was the police diktat that an Ayyappa devotee should return to Nilakkal in six hours. “How is that possible,” Mohana Das asked. “A devotee has to first make the 24-km stretch from Nilakkal to Pamba, then walk up the hill, wait in queue, have darshan, perform the Neyyabhishekam, then climb down the steps, trek back to Pamba and then board a bus that will take him to Nilakkal. Even if a devotee does all this running, without even a moment of rest, it will not be possible to complete the process in less than six hours,” Mohana Das said.
Doctors posted at Sabarimala, too, had told Onmanorama that forcing devotees to complete the pilgrimage in six hours was a major health hazard. “Elder people not getting enough rest after a long and arduous trek could turn out to be dangerous,” a doctor said.
A sight that disturbed Mohana Das was the police occupation of the resting place bang opposite the Valiya Nadappanthal. “Right in front of the building it is written that the place is a resting place for devotees. But the cops have now taken over the place and prohibit any devotee from using the place,” Mohana Das said. When he asked the police about their 'encroachment', he was told that it was part of the 'security arrangements'.
Unholy mess at Pamba
Mohana Das also contradicted Travancore Devaswom Board president A Padmakumar's statement that the board had arranged adequate facilities for devotees at Sabarimala. “Pamba is thoroughly decimated. There are no basic facilities worth the name at Pamba,” Mohana Das said. “Of course, there are 280 functional bio-toilets at Pamba. But their condition is so poor that devotees will shudder to use them. The numbers are not enough either. An additional 250 bio-toilets are required,” the SHRC member said.
Nonetheless, he said the state government could not be held fully accountable for the pathetic state of affairs at Sabarimala. “The floods had almost fully destroyed the toilets and other facilities around Pamba. Unfortunately, the season arrived too soon. To expect the government to restore normalcy in such a short time is impractical,” he added.
The SHRC member also justified the parking restrictions imposed by the police. He said the August floods had accumulated silt into huge mounds on either sides of Pamba. “It is therefore difficult to park vehicles at Triveni,” Mohana Das said. The Hilltop area has also crumbled and is now reinforced using sand bags. “This had made the slopes highly unstable prompting authorities to prohibit traffic in this area, too,” he said.
Mohana Das said the Sannidhanam area was largely left untouched by the floods. “Sannidhanam has enough bathrooms and toilets. And because the flow of devotees is just a trickle, there is no rush to use them either,” Mohana Das said. But he observed that even these toilets were not properly maintained. “Many of the bathrooms looked unhygienic. In some cases we had found that the cleaning was done in a hasty manner. Some of the devotees had told us that the cleaning was done just before we (the State Human Rights Commission) visited,” he said.
The SHRC member wondered why the officials could not keep even the facilities at Sannidhanam, which was spared of the fury of the floods, in good condition.