Cases against Kerala women devotees withdrawn

via PNS-Thiruvananthapuram published on March 15, 2012

The cases registered by the Kerala Police against 11,000 women devotees for cooking Pongala (rice-jaggery pudding) on roadsides in Thiruvananthapuram on March 7 for offering to the Goddess of Attukal Bhagavathy temple, renowned and revered as Women’s Sabarimala, were withdrawn on Tuesday following widespread protests.

The First Class Magistrate Court in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday approved the reports the police submitted for quashing the cases. The Director General of Police had on Monday suspended Deputy Commissioner of Police VC Mohanan for ordering registration of cases against the devotees in two police stations.

However, the Government and the Police Headquarters have not yet ordered any probe into the situation that had led to the registration of cases against the devotees for performing the ritual, an integral part of the annual festival of the Attukal temple. Devotees’ outfits alleged that the Government was trying to bury the issue by taking nominal action against a single official.

The Thampanoor and Fort police stations in Thiruvananthapuram had registered FIRs against 10,000 and 1,000 women devotees respectively for cooking Pongala on the roadsides by blocking movement of vehicles and pedestrians as per Sections 188 and 283 of the IPC in accordance with a High Court order that banned public programmes on roads and roadsides.

The cases were for disobeying an order of a lawfully empowered public servant (the HC) and for causing obstruction in public way. However, the police action was in total violation of the assurance the Chief Minister had personally given in the State Assembly on March 5 that the court order was not applicable in the case of Pongala cooking for the Attukal festival.

After the police action sparked off intense protests which included marches to police stations and State secretariats on Monday, the Chief Minister instructed the DGP to take necessary steps to correct the mistake, freeze the cases and take action against the officials responsible. DCP Mohanan was suspended from service as per this instruction.

The police in their final reports submitted in the court on Tuesday said that the Pongala cooking was a traditional ritual being performed every annual festival of the temple and that this had not caused any difficulties for the public as the festival day had been declared a holiday locally.

The reports also said that it had been decided not to take follow-up action against the devotees on the basis of the FIRs. On the basis of this explanation, the court granted the police’s request to invalidate the cases registered against the devotees. The Chief Minister and DGP had on Monday itself assured that there would be no action on the basis of the FIRs.

A minimum of 25 lakh women had cooked Pongala for offering to the Goddess in connection with the festival on different parts of the capital city on March 7. The temple had got into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest convergence of women at one place at the same time in 1997.

Meanwhile, Marxist MLA V Sivankutty on Tuesday served a breach of privilege notice against Chief Minister Chandy in connection with the registration of cases against the devotees. The notice was served on the Chief Minister for not fulfilling the assurance given in the Assembly

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