Protesters at Sabarmiala forced 11 women from the previously banned age group who had reached Pamba in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday to turn back even as police detained some of the protestors.

The 11 women, all from Tamil Nadu, had come to Pamba base camp ready for a trek to the shrine to pray to Lord Ayyappa. The women were adamant that they won’t return without offering prayers.

Their arrival sparked a fresh round of protests by devotees prompting the police to increase security in the area.

“We are here since 3.30 am. Police had said that they will provide us with protection but now they are not providing us protection to trek to the temple,” Selvi, a member of the group, was quoted as saying by ANI.

According to reports, Selvi is the coordinator of Manithi, a Chennai-based group that’s helping the women.

“Eleven women devotees had come to offer prayers at Sabarimala Temple but they were stopped by other pilgrims. The women devotees have returned now. We can’t use force. It might create a law and order problem,” Shaji Sugunan, Special Officer, Law and Order, Pampa, was quoted by ANI as saying.

But hundreds of angry protesters kept chanting slogans and sang hymns to Lord Ayyappa asking the women to retreat.

“We will give our lives to protect the customs and traditions of the Sabarimala temple. Under no circumstances will these women be allowed to go up the hill,” said angry pilgrims.

Even the priests refused to prepare the holy kit that is carried on the pilgrims head, following which the women prepare it on their own.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Sobha Surendran continued her sit-in hunger strike in Thiruvananthapuram protesting against the entry of women in the age group of 10 to 50 to the temple.

Sabarimala has been witnessing protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple, including those from the hitherto banned age group.

Around two dozen women from that particular age group have already tried and failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple after the top court’s verdict, following protest from the Ayyappa devotees.

The present two month long pilgrim season began on November 16 and compared to the previous ones have seen an uneasy calm. The number of pilgrims has dwindled drastically and temple revenues have also dipped.