- 24-hour shutdown in Kerala, the BJP is supporting it
- Protesters attacked women devotees, journalists near base camp
- Left government in Kerala claimed the violence is politically motivated
A day after protests and violence in Kerala against the entry of women of menstruating age at the famous Sabarimala temple, the state government has banned the gathering of more than five people in Sannidhanam, Pamba, Nilakkal, and Elavungal - the base camps from where devotees head to the hill-top shrine. A state-wide shutdown has been called today by a group that calls itself the Sabarimala Protection Committee. Many shops are shut and vehicles are off the roads.
The state BJP has decided to support the shutdown, while Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala has said that the key issue in Sabarimala was "not one of gender equality." Barring the Left government, the Congress, BJP and Hindu groups are ranged against the Supreme Court order last month overturning a centuries-old ban on women between 10 and 50 years entering Sabarimala, the temple of Lord Ayyappa. "The CPI-M-led government has not even cared to file a review petition while the BJP and RSS are out to create problems. Here the issue is of faith and traditions," said Mr Chennithala.
As the temple opened to devotees yesterday, protesters attempting to block women from visiting the shrine clashed with the police and even attacked women journalists. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said no one would be allowed to stop devotees going to Sabarimala. This morning, however, two journalists of the New York Times were forced to drop their trek to Sabarimala after facing protests.
The Sabarimala temple opened for the first time yesterday after the Supreme Court's historic September 28 order ending what the judges called a custom "almost like untouchabilty". Large crowds took to the route leading to the temple to block women. Protesters vandalised media vehicles and threw stones at the police. Women health workers and police constables on duty were also not spared.
Protesters threw stones at the police and were in turn baton-charged at Nilakkal and Pamba, the two main access points on the way to the shrine. More than a dozen protesters were arrested. Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra said there is very strong police presence in and around Sabarimala. "None will be stopped nor will anyone be allowed to take law into their hands. Anyone can come and pray," Mr Behra said.
The Left government has called these attacks politically motivated. Kadakampally Surendran, the Minister for Devasoms or temple bodies, who was at the temple town overseeing the arrangements, asked the protesters to stop creating trouble. "The Sabarimala issue should not be allowed to flare up. The government has no other option but to ensure that the Supreme Court's directive is implemented," Mr Surendran told reporters.
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