- Clashes broke out soon after two women sneaked into Sabarimala temple
- A few policemen were injured after protesters targeted them with stones
- Government remains strong in resolve to facilitate Supreme Court order
Clashes broke out between activists of the BJP youth wing and the ruling Left in front of the Kerala secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, hours after two women sneaked into the Sabarimala temple early this morning. Police used stun grenades, tear gas shells and water cannons to disperse the protesters.
Protests erupted across the state soon after news of the women trekking to the hill shrine spread. The temple itself was closed for over an hour for "purification". Kerala Minister EP Jayarajan claimed this amounts to contempt of court because "untouchability is against the law".
Thiruvananthapuram is currently in a tense standoff that has lasted over four hours, with neither side showing any sign of backing down. Police could also be seen charging at protesters who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops in the area. A few policemen were injured after protesters targeted them with stones.
Bindu and Kanaka Durga, both in their early 40s, entered the hilltop shrine around 3.45 am. A video accessed by NDTV showed them hurrying into the shrine along with a police team even as a group protested in the backdrop. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the visit. "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.
During the protests that followed, BJP workers waved black flags at State Minister For Temple Bodies Kadakampally Surendran and Health Minister KK Shylaja in Guruvayur. BJP workers took out a march in the state capital and blocked a national highway in Kasaragod. Right-wing activist Rahul Easwar said his group -- the Ayyappa Dharma Sena -- would take "appropriate action" after more information comes through.
Kerala has been on the boil since last September, when the Supreme Court overturned an age-old ban preventing women of menstrual age from visiting the Ayyappa temple. Over a dozen women attempted to do so, but were stopped by a wall of protesters less than a kilometre away from the temple.
However, the Left government remains firm in its resolve to stand by the Supreme Court verdict. On Tuesday, it organised a massive women's chain extending from the northern tip of Kerala to its extreme south to push for equal rights for women in all spheres of life. An estimated 30-50 lakh women participated in the event.
The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge to its ruling on January 22.
(With inputs from AFP)