The Kerala police are weighing the use of military helicopters to airlift women devotees to Sabarimala from Thiruvananthapuram or Kochi as a last and drastic recourse to save them from running the gauntlet of ‘Save Sabarimala’ protesters.
As many as 560 women between the ages of 10 and 50 have expressed their intent to visit the temple when it opens for the 41-day Mandalam-Makaravilakku period on November 17.
Top officials said most of the women who had registered themselves with the police queue management portal appeared to be educated professionals and their children. An estimated 3.20 lakh men had also reserved their darshan time in advance through the portal.
The State law enforcement is faced with the onerous task of providing them safe passage. A senior official said the police strategy to facilitate their ascend to the temple would hinge on the Supreme Court decision on November 13.
The apex court is scheduled to rule on two petitions seeking a review of its order in September to allow women of all ages to worship at the overwhelmingly male-only forest temple.
The police said the helicopter would require the Forest Department’s concurrence to use a landing spot cleared in the early 1980s for the visit of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the temple.
However, the tour did not transpire. An official said pilgrims often used helicopters to visit the Kedarnath temple on the Himalayan ranges.
Officers said the police would have to clear a safe path for women pilgrims from the landing spot to the temple and back.
The police said their earlier position was to avoid the use of force against demonstrators at Sannidhanam. However, if the SC dismissed the review petition, the police would have no other option but use force to disperse anti-women protesters.
The government, which is intent on upholding the right of women to worship at Sabarimala, is locked in an acrimonious tussle with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.
Both the opposition parties want the government to file a review petition against the order in the Supreme Court.
The ruling front and the Opposition parties have launched massive propaganda campaigns to elaborate on their respective views on the Sabarimala women entry issue.