Rahul Easwar, president of the ‘Ayyappa Dharma Sena’, was taken into custody by police on Sunday for his alleged provocative statement related to the entry of women into the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala.

A team of police personnel from Kochi took Easwar into custody from his flat in Thiruvananthapuram in connection with a case registered under IPC Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 117 (abetting commission of offence by the public or by more than 10 persons), police said.

The arrest will be recorded in the evening after they reach Kochi, police sources said.

A member of the Thazhamon family of Sabarimala tantris (head priests), Easwar had said during a press meet in Kochi last week that they had a contingency plan to force the closure of the temple by spilling blood on its premises by some devotees in case any woman in the ‘barred’ age group managed to reach it.

He had also claimed that 20 Lord Ayyappa devotees opposing the entry of women in the age group of 10 and 50 were ready to inflict knife injuries on themselves on the temple premises, which would have forced the priests to close the gates on account of impurity.

“Had their blood fallen on the floor of the temple, that would have forced the priests to shut the shrine for three days for purification rituals,” Easwar had said.

A case was registered against him later on the basis of a complaint filed by a Thiruvananthapuram native.

Easwar was earlier arrested from Sabarimala Sannidhanam (temple complex) on October 17 over the ‘save Sabarimala campaign, and later released on bail.

Meanwhile, over 3,345 protesters, who prevented women from entering the Sabarimala temple, have been arrested since October 26, while 517 cases have been registered at various police stations across Kerala, authorities said on Sunday.

In the last 12 hours, over 500 arrests were recorded at police stations in Pathanamthitta district — where the Lord Ayyappa shrine is located — as well as Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode and Ernakulam.

So far only 122 are in remand, while others have been released on bail, according to the police.

However, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra has directed that no arrest should be made of those people who protested by taking part in singing hymns and prayers.

These arrests have been made for defying the September 28 Supreme Court order that overturned a ban on women of menstrual age (10-50 years) from entering the hilltop temple where celibate deity Lord Ayyappa is worshipped.

Defending the arrests, state Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan on Sunday told the media that this was normal police action when the rule of law is breached.

“During the previous Congress-led UDF rule, over four lakh cases were registered against our workers. Is it not natural for the police to act when rules are broken?” asked Balakrishnan.

On October 17, the temple opened for the five-day monthly puja.

However, the protesters ensured that no women in the barred age group could enter sanctum sanctorum until October 22 when the gates closed.

(With agency inputs)