Kadakampally Surendran, the Kerala Devaswom Minister, said on Monday that only two women in the formerly banned age group of 10-50 years offered prayers at Sabarimala temple.

The Kerala government had previously told the Supreme Court that as many as 51 women had already entered the shrine after the Constitution Bench judgment of September 2018 lifted the ban on the women of age group 10-50.

Surendran informed the Kerala assembly on Monday that the state government has confirmation about only two women from the age group offering prayers at the Sabarimala temple.

When Congress MLAs raised question on the number of women who entered the shrine, Surendran, an MLA from the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) said, “As per Sabarimala Executive Officer’s report, two women have offered prayers inside the temple.”

When asked to comment on reports of Sri Lankan women entering the shrine, Surendran said that there is no confirmation yet on this.

The two women – Kanaka Durga, 39, and Bindu Ammini, 40 – had entered the Lord Aayappa temple in Sabarimala on 2 January, triggering widespread outrage and protests across the state.

The two women had entered the temple clandestinely in the wee hours. Since then, both Durga and Ammini are facing threats.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had then confirmed that the women did enter the shrine.

“It is a fact that the women entered the shrine. Police are bound to offer protection to anyone wanting to worship at the shrine,” he said.

Following their entry and the confirmation, the temple was shut for ‘purification’ ritual.

Two days later the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) – custodians of the Sabarimala temple –decided to seek an explanation from Kantararu Rajeeveru, the temple tantri, as to why they conducted a “purification ritual”.

“The purification ritual is against the directive of the Supreme Court and hence we have asked him to explain. Further action will follow after going through his explanation,” said Padmakumar – a former CPI-M legislator, handpicked by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as the TDB president.

On the other hand, pointing to a danger to their life and liberty, Kanaka Durga, who had been allegedly attacked by her mother-in-law after she returned home for the first time since entering the Sabarimala shrine, had in a plea before the Supreme Court sought 24×7 security for both herself and Bindu.

On 18 January, a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Dinesh Maheshwari directed the state government to provide round the clock protection to the two women.