Hartal imposed in Kerala after protests at Sabarimala temple, state prepares for potential violent encounters

Kerala experienced a statewide shutdown on Thursday after various Hindu outfits called for a hartal in protest against the Supreme Court's decision to allow women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple.

Buses and auto-rickshaws stayed off the road. However, stray incidents of stone-pelting on Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses were reported from some parts of the state, police said. However, private vehicles were plying in some areas.

Police had also imposed Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) Section 144 in four places including Pamba, Sannidhanam to check any kind of protest and violence.

Devotees force woman journalist to turn back

Suhasini Raj, a journalist who was covering the situation for The New York Times, on Thursday faced a situation similar to female journalists trying to enter the temple on Wednesday. Many were heckled, their vehicles smashed and young female Ayyappa devotees turned back as hordes of activists of Hindu fringe groups besieged the road leading to the temple.

She was stopped midway by Lord Ayyappa devotees opposing entry of women of menstrual age into the hill shrine. The journalist accompanied by her male colleague, a foreigner, descended the hills from Marakkoottam area in the face of mounting protest by Ayyappa devotees.

Malayalam news channels who followed the journalist to the hill shrine said the devotees shouted slogans such as “ladies go back”. Some even allegedly hurled abuses at her opposing her entry into the ancient shrine, the reports said.

The woman told protesters that she was a journalist and she was on her way to the shrine for carrying out her professional duty.

Police had thrown a security ring around the woman and her colleague. However, despite police assurances, she decided not to climb the hills further, ANI reported.

Asianet quoted Suhasini as saying that "she did not want to create trouble," before she abandoned her trek to the shrine.

BJP violates Section 144, six arrested after party stages sit-in

At least six BJP youth wing activists were arrested at Nilakkal for staging a protest in violation of section 144 of the CrPC. Police removed the slogan-shouting Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) members who launched a sit-in protest at Nilakkal, the gateway to Sabarimala, soon after the BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai announced in Thiruvananthapuram 41 BJYM activists would violate Section 144 in areas including Nilakkal.

The BJP youth wing workers made no attempt to resist the arrests. They courted arrest and boarded the police vehicle chanting Ayyappa slogans. They were later taken to the Pampa police station.

While being bundled into a police vehicle, state BJYM president Prakash Babu said not a single woman in the age group of 10 to 50 would be allowed to climb the hills which house the temple.

Police said strong action would be taken against those disrupting the law and order.

 Hartal imposed in Kerala after protests at Sabarimala temple, state prepares for potential violent encounters

Police personnel worked to contain any potential outbreaks of violence across the state. PTI

Religious leaders fight for 'tradition'

The Sabarimala head priest, Kandaru Rajeevaru, dismissed reports that the tantri family had planned to close down the Lord Ayyappa temple if young women entered it to offer prayers. He was reacting at Sannidhanam, a part of the temple complex, after some reports were widely shared on social media.

"We have never said that the temple will be closed if women of the traditionally barred age group enter there. It is our duty and responsibility to carry out the monthly poojas and other rituals. We will not break the custom," Rajeevaru said.

The priest, however, did appeal to the women belonging to the age group of 10-50, who were restricted as per the centuries-old traditions of the shrine, not to come to Sannidhanam and create a problem. Talking to a Malayalam news channel, he said that the monthly poojas will be marred if the women from the banned group entered the temple.

He said that the devotees who are protesting against the Supreme Court verdict might feel hurt if anybody tries to break the custom.

ANI reported that he also condemned the Supreme Court's verdict, and quoted him as saying: "The Supreme Court thinks only about the law of the land, not about the customs and traditions. So many devotees still want that old customs be maintained. I have only one opinion, which is based on the old custom and tradition."

SC did not take tradition into consideration: Mohan Bhagwat on Sabarimala row

Amid the protests, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat delivered his annual Vijayadashami address in Nagpur Thursday morning. Speaking about the Sabarimala issue, he said the Supreme Court verdict has not taken into consideration the nature and premise of the tradition that has been accepted by society and has given rise to "divisiveness" in society.

Decisions taken without considering all aspects and patiently creating a mindset of society will neither be adopted in actual practice nor will they help in creating a new social order, in tune with changing times and positions, he said.

"The situation arising out of the recent verdict on Sabarimala temple shows a similar predicament. The nature and premise of the tradition that has been accepted by society and continuously followed for years together were not taken into consideration," Bhagwat said.

"The version of heads of religious denominations and faith of crores of devotees was not taken into account. The plea by a large section of women, who follow this tradition, was not heard too," he noted.

Kerala CM blames RSS for Sabarimala violence

The Kerala government claimed that the RSS was trying to "destroy" the Lord Ayyappa shrine by "unleashing terror". The BJP, however, countered the allegation, saying the CPM-led LDF government was trying to tarnish the Ayyappa Temple and was responsible for creating tension at the holy shrine.

Blocking devotees from proceeding to the Ayyappa Temple and forcing them to return by creating terror was part of the RSS-Sangh Parivar's move to "destroy" Sabarimala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan charged in a Facebook post.

"RSS is trying to destroy the Lord Ayyappa shrine by unleashing terror," the chief minister alleged.

"The final objective of the Sangh Parivar forces is to establish the upper caste dominance by destroying the acceptance enjoyed by all sections of the society at the shrine," he said.

Making it clear that the government would not allow the temple to be turned into a "riot zone", he said any attempt to check people from trekking the holy hills would be dealt with.

Kerala police ups security, says 'situation under control'

To prepare for any potential violent outbreaks, Kerala police increased security measures in regions around the temple. From making assurances about increased manpower to shutting down any violations of the hartal, police personnel has special security arrangements at various locations in the state, including Pamba, Nilackal, Erumeli en route to the temple, located in Pathanamthitta district, officials said.

The Kerala DGP also ordered the state police's cyber cell to register cases against people who are spreading hatred posts about violence ensuing in Nilakkal and Pamba on social media, ANI reported.

Another report from ANI quoted PB Nooh, Pathanamthitta Dist Collector, as saying: "Situation is peaceful. There's no problem here. We've deployed sufficient police force in Pampa andSannidhanam. There's no issue. Currently this (Section 144) has been imposed for 2 days, further decision will be taken as per situation."

Updated Date: Oct 18, 2018 17:13:25 IST