Over 60 pilgrims were arrested from Sabarimala after they failed to comply to prohibitory orders in place at the temple leading to protests here and across Kerala, police said on Monday.
The protesters were demanding lifting the ban on overnight stay in the temple premises.
While angry Hindu activists took to streets, raised slogans and held prayer sessions in front of police stations across the state, Union Minister KJ Alphons criticised the state government for the action.
“A situation worse than emergency is happening here, the devotees are not allowed to go up. Section 144 is imposed for no reason. Devotees are not terrorists, why do they need 15000 policemen here,” KJ Alphons was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
As news spread about the arrests, in Thiruvananthapuram protesters assembled near Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s residence and shouted slogans.
The members of the BJP and its mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had gathered in front of Cliff House — Vijayan’s official residence at Nanthancode in Thiruvananthapuram.
Simultaneous protests were also held at various places across the state in Aranmula, Kochi, Kollam, Alappuzha, Ranni, Thodupuzha, Kaladi, Malappuram and Idukki among others.
The situation started growing tense late on Sunday when despite prohibitory orders in and around the temple town, over 200 pilgrims did not vacate the premise and started singing Lord Ayyappa hymns.
They continued with the chants even after being requested, forcing the police to take action and forcefully evict them. As many as 68 devotees were also arrested.
They were taken to the Maniar Police Camp in Pathanamthitta district and were to be produced before a court later Monday.
Superintendent of Police Prathish Kumar told the media the arrests were made as protesters even after being informed to disperse once the temple closed at 10 p.m, did not move out.
Forces of the Sangh Parivar has announced to hold protests on Monday across the state. Security has been heightened for Vijayan, who has official engagements in Kozhikode.
Speaking to the media at Nilackal, Alphons on Monday said: “I fail to understand why the Kerala Police has clamped prohibitory orders.
“This is not the way things should be handled. Sabarimala pilgrims are not extremists. You cannot use force in this place.”
He also said that he would inspect how the state has utilised the Rs 100 crore-relief fund from the Centre. “I will go around the temple town to make sure how the funds have been used.”
As a political slugfest continues, BJP workers blocked traffic on the national highways for over an hour across the state protesting against the arrest and remand of Surendran. In Vatakara, a KSRTC bus was stoned, police said.
Surendran, who was taken into preventive custody as he tried to proceed to the temple, was Sunday produced before a magistrate and remanded to 14-day judicial custody after he was charged with non-bailable offences.
Condemning the manner in which Surendran was arrested, Union minister KJ Alphons said it was “despicable” and described the police action as “condemnable”.
“There is a need to take a path of consensus on matters relating to Sabarimala,” he said in a Facebook post.
Implementing things which are against people’s interest has no place in a democracy, he said, adding the people’s verdict was for five years not lifelong.
The Congress, which deputed a three-member delegation to Sabarimala, accused the CPI(M)-led state government of creating a “terror-like atmosphere” in the name of security of the hill shrine.
CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged the BJP’s “agenda” was to create violence.
Meanwhile, the Travancore Devaswom Board has decided to file a petition in the Supreme Court on Monday seeking more time to implement the apex court’s September 28 verdict allowing women of all ages to offer worship at the shrine. The court twice declined to stay the verdict this week.
The court has said that it will hear all the review petitions on January 22.
Over 500-odd young women have made online bookings for darshan.
The temple had opened on Friday evening for the 64-day annual pilgrimage season as the stand-off continued over the entry of menstrual age women to the shrine.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 when the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.
(With agency inputs)