A day after two women of menstruating age entered into the Sabarimala temple, a 12-hour dawn-to-dusk hartal called by Hindu outfits began in Kerala on Thursday morning.
Soon after the hartal began at 6 am, according to reports, protesters blocked vehicles and burnt tyres in Kozhikode. Auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers could be however seen plying in Thiruvananthapuram and a few other places.
The hartal has been called by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of various Hindu groups, which has been protesting against the Supreme Court’s September 28 verdict. The Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP) is supporting the hartal.
The hartal has the backing of BJP too, while the Congress-led UDF is observing a “black day” on Thursday.
Violent protests broke out across Kerala on Wednesday following the entry of the two women below 50 into the temple. CPI(M) and BJP workers clashed in Pandalam, which even claimed the life of a 55-year-old man. According to reports, Sabarimala Karma Samithi member Chandran Unnithan sustained head injuries in stone-pelting and died in hospital. Police are investigating the death.
On Wednesday, two women, Kanakadurga (44) and Bindu (42), created history as they stepped into the famous hill shrine three months after the Supreme Court lifted the ban on entry of girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age. Guarded by police, the managed to enter the shrine of the “eternally celibate” Lord Ayyappan and had a darshan around 3.45 am.
They however did not climb the hallowed 18 steps, which is the route that all other devotees take, but went inside through the VIP entrance. Once this was confirmed, by none other than Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the sanctum sanctorum of the Sabarimala temple was closed to carry out ‘purification’. Following an hour-long ritual, the temple was reopened around 11.30 am.
As the news about women’s entry spread, protests erupted across the southern state, with Hindu right-wing activists blocking highways and forcing closure of shops and markets. BJP and CPI(M) workers clashed in front of the Secretariat in the state capital for over five hours. They hurled stones at each other prompting police to fire tear gas shells and use water cannons to disperse them. Five women activists were detained.
BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai said CM Vijayan had betrayed Ayyappa devotees. “The government would face a backlash against the assault on Hindu faith. Hindu social organisations and sanyasis, including the Sabarimala Karma Samathi, would react strongly,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition and senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said CM Vijayan had authorised the covert operation in total disregard to the religious sentiments of crores of devotees. “The CM’s thoughtless actions would have severe repercussions in Kerala. “Non-believers have conspired to destroy faith,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kerala DGP Loknath Behara has warned of strict action against those indulging in violence during the hartal.
Kerala University, Mahatma Gandhi University, Calicut University and Kannur University are learnt to have postponed their examinations scheduled for Thursday.
Traders have however said they would keep shops and business establishments open.
(With agency inputs)