Kerala witnessed widespread stone pelting, blocking of vehicles and incidents of violence and vandalism on Thursday as the Hindu outfits called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the state against the entry of two women of menstruating age into the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala. The 12-hour-long hartal, called by the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of various pro-Hindutva groups, and the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), hit normal life in the initial hours.
Reportedly, four BJP workers were stabbed in Thrissur and one of them succumbed to his injuries. A 55-year-old man, who was seriously injured in stone pelting at Pandalam, had died late on Wednesday night, police said. Two Congress workers were also injured after a vehicle in Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's cavalcade hit them. Youth Congress workers had tried to show black flags to the chief minister when the accident took place.
State-run KSRTC buses, which were pelted with stones during the violence on Wednesday by anti-women entry agitators, kept away from roads in many districts. Adding to the woes of the public, the number of autorickshaws plying was very low. A large number of passengers, including women and children, were seen stranded at bus stands and railway stations across the state.
A 64-year old woman, Pathumma from Wayanad who came for treatment at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), collapsed and died at the railway station here in the morning, following which her relatives alleged that a delay in getting ambulance service resulted in her death. Shops and hotels remained closed in the state capital. However, defying the hartal call, several merchants opened shops in SM Street, a major traders' hub in Kozhikode, Kochi and Kollam under police security.
The merchants' organisations had said they would not extend support to the hartal and keep shops and business establishments open. Television channels aired visuals of protesters forcibly downing shutters of shops in various districts since the hartal began at 6 am. The protesters burnt tyres and placed granite blocks on roads to check vehicle transport in Kozhikode, Palakkad and Kollam. The local party offices of the ruling CPM were pelted with stones in Ernakulam and Malappuram districts, police said.
A library managed by the Left party in Palakkad was vandalised by protesters. Autorickshaws and private buses suffered damage during stone pelting in Kannur and Kozhikode, the police said. Besides buses, police patrol vehicles were also attacked in some places. The BJP is supporting the shutdown while the Congress-led UDF is observing a "black day" on Thursday. A large number of protesters were arrested in various districts in connection with the violent incidents but the police is yet to divulge the total number of people arrested across the state. At least 22 people were arrested in Malappuram and 12 in Kannur in connection with violence Wednesday night and this morning, police said.
Meanwhile, the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala witnessed a heavy rush of devotees despite the hartal and roadblocks in the morning, shrine sources said. Two women, Kanakadurga (44) and Bindu (42), had created history on Wednesday by entering the shrine guarded by police three months after the Supreme Court's historic judgement lifting the ban on entry of girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age into the shrine of Lord Ayyappa, its "eternally celibate" deity.
As the news spread like wildfire from the hill shrine, protests erupted at several places, with Hindu right-wing activists blocking highways and forcing a closure of shops and markets. BJP and CPM workers clashed in front of the Secretariat here for over five hours on Wednesday as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. State DGP Loknath Behara warned of strict action against those indulging in violence during the hartal. Various universities including the Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi, Calicut and Kannur ones have postponed their examinations scheduled for Thursday.
However, at a press conference, Vijayan said that the state government was bound to implement the Supreme Court order lifting the ban on women's entry into Sabarimala temple. "It is the government's responsibility to protect women. The state government has fulfilled its responsibility. The RSS and BJP are turning Sabarimala into a warzone. People of Kerala are not against women entering the temple. The state government now has been forced to intervene in order to prevent any clash. We will take strict actions against any protester seen taking part in violence," he said.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, while clarifying his party's stand on the issue, said: "We are in favour of women's empowerment but it is a matter of faith. The Congress' stand is clear. We are criticising the state government on the needlessly provocative actions at a time when the pilgrimage season was going on peacefully. And at the same time, we're criticising the BJP for its acts of violence, vandalism, and destruction. We believe that reducing a sanctified place to a stage for political theatre is a shameful act by both parties. We stand with the believers. "
Meanwhile, the Kerala Police has said that it will investigate the attacks on mediapersons across the state and probe if it was part of a conspiracy. According to The Indian Express, Behera said in a press release, that the district police heads have been instructed to create special teams to investigate the cases. The IB has also been alerted to gather intelligence on the same.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jan 03, 2019 16:34:02 IST