Police discuss ways to prevent ‘flash mobs’ from confronting young women pilgrims at Sabarimala

The Kerala police have been deliberating ways to prevent ‘flash mobs’, as described by a senior officer, from confronting women pilgrims of younger age at Sabarimala when the temple opens next month for the annual pilgrimage season.

Brainstorming sessions that commenced at the police headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday are expected to lay the groundwork for the peaceful conduct of the pilgrimage.

The sessions took place in the backdrop of mounting intelligence that the “Save Sabarimala” campaign to deter women of all ages from entering the temple will gather momentum once the temple reopens.

Senior officers privy to the sessions said they planned to control ”overcrowding” by prompting the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to make the online reservation system for pilgrims mandatory. The measure would help reduce serpentine queues. The police hoped the scheme would facilitate the even phasing of pilgrims over the three-month pilgrimage season.

Group reservation

The police would encourage group reservation to help spread out influx of devotees through the puja hours and bring the daily number of worshippers to a more manageable figure. They would install more cameras on the four-km forested climb leading to the shrine from the transit base at Pampa. Plainclothesmen would patrol the route intensively. Anti-riot police units on all-terrain vehicles would provide support, if necessary.

Artificial intelligence powered computer programmes would analyse surveillance video images and trigger alerts if any violence or gridlocks occurred on the pilgrimage path. The system would identify troublemakers and track their movement to and from the shrine.

The police would drastically reduce the time pilgrims could spend at Sabarimala. They would impose prohibitory orders at the temple court in front of the 18 “Holy Steps” to prevent any group from pitching camp or organising protests there. They would move the court to deal with any outfits responsible for the recent violence in Sabarimala.

Workers mustered

Investigators said the protests against few women pilgrims who visited Sabarimala when it opened recently were not impromptu as surmised by the police earlier. They said fresh evidence had emerged that members of Hindu right-wing groups had mustered workers through social media in advance to deter the women.

The groups numbered not more than 300 persons. They shouted down women devotees and attacked journalists covering the protests. An analysis of the surveillance camera images showed that the bulk of the Ayyappa devotees did not partake in the protests, the investigators claimed.

State police chief Loknath Behera, Additional Director General of Police, South Zone, Anil Kanth, ADP, Intelligence, T. K. Vinod Kumar and IGs, Manoj Abraham and S. Sreejith, are leading the consultations to finalise the security scheme for the pilgrimage season.

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