- K Surendran and his party workers were blocked at Nilakkal base camp
- When he refused, he was detained by police as a "preventive measure"
- BJP workers protested outside secretariat, cops had to use water cannons
A BJP leader has been detained after he was stopped from heading to the hill-top shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala on Saturday evening. Kerala BJP's general secretary K Surendran and his party workers were blocked at Nilakkal base camp and asked to return. When Mr Surendran refused, he was taken away in a police vehicle. His detention was described as a "preventive measure" by the police.
Mr Surendran was carrying the "Irrumudi Kettu" (a bundle containing offerings) when the police told him not to proceed to the shrine as it would create law and order problems, an officer said.
But the BJP leader said that he was there as an "Ayyappa Bhaktha" (devotee) and should be allowed to pray at the temple.
"You can stop us only if you shoot at us. Even lathicharge can't stop us," Mr Surendran reportedly told the police.
Chanting "Swamiyae Ayyappa", Mr Surendran and others tried to move forward amid resistance from the police.
The police had to use water cannons to disperse BJP workers from outside the secretariat when they protested Mr Surendran's arrest. They plan to protest on Sunday as well.
Late Friday night, KP Sasikala, state president of Hindu Aikya Vedi, was taken into "preventive custody" when she was about two kilometres from the 18 steps -- the golden steps -- that lead to the sanctum sanctorum of the famous shrine. The Hindu group then called for a dawn-to-dusk shutdown in the state on Saturday, which was largely peaceful.
Ms Sasikala was let off with a warning.
The Sabarimala shrine opened for the third time on Friday since the Supreme Court order allowing women between the ages of 10 and 50 into the temple. The 62-day-long Mandala Pooja-Magaravilaku annual pilgrimage began on Saturday morning amid heavy police deployment.
VV Rajesh, a BJP leader who has been camping at the Sabrimala shrine since Friday noon, has blamed the government for creating an "unhealthy situation". "Till up to last year, the police would not use batons on protesters. This year, however, the police have been asked to bring sticks and batons. The government and the police are trying to instill fear among devotees," he said.
Meanwhile, Mary Sweety, who had attempted the trek in Sabarimala last month but had to return following protests that turned violent, reached Chengannur railway station to make another attempt. Protesters at the railway station started chanting Ayyappa Sharnam, blocked her way and didn't allow her to proceed.
The woman, who is in her 40s, won't be allowed near Sabarimala, one of the protesters said about Ms Sweety.
Since the historic court order, no woman of menstrual has been able to enter the hilltop shrine because of massive protests by the devotees who believe changing the tradition would be an insult to Lord Ayyappa. More than a dozen women tried and failed to make it to the temple, even with heavy police protection. Over 3,700 persons have been arrested during protests across the state.
On Friday, activist Trupti Desai was forced to return home from the airport after a tense standoff with protesters at the Kochi airport.
While Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the state government will follow the Supreme Court's order and facilitate the entry of women of mentrual age, the Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, said it will ask for more time to implement the order.
Over 15,000 police personnel, a 20-member commando force, a special bomb squad with 234 personnel have been keep a vigil. In a first, pilgrims heading to the shrine in private vehicles will need passes detailing their identity and age.
At least 500 women in the 10-50 years age group have registered themselves for the darshan. However, Pathnamthitta District Collector PB Nooh said no woman in the 10-50 age group has so far approached the local administration seeking protection to visit Sabarimala.
The Supreme Court will hear petitions seeking review of its September 28 order in January, but has refused to put it on hold.
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