As the number of people arrested for allegedly being involved in violent agitations against the entry of women of all age at the Sabarimala temple increased to 2061, the Kerala High Court Friday asked the Kerala Police not to play to the gallery and warned of action if innocents were arrested.
The police crackdown against the alleged protesters began two days ago in 482 cases registered across Kerala. Of the 2,061 arrested, 1500 were given bail, while around 500 people were remanded to judicial custody.
Amid the arrests, the BJP in Kerala said the government action amounted to a “Hindu hunt’, while the Nair Service Society (NSS) likened it to the days of the Emergency. While the police aims to prevent more protests when the hill shrine opens for a two-month-long festival in November, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called a meeting of Devaswom ministers of the southern states on October 31.
Following a recent High Court order, which wanted the state government to levy damages caused to public property by agitators, the Kerala police have slapped stringent conditions for the bail of those in judicial custody. The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), which had incurred a loss of Rs 1 crore during the agitation, wanted police to ensure that those involved in vandalising state buses pay the damages.
DGP Loknath Behera said police action against the agitators would continue. “The police have collected the details of those who have been involved in the violent protests. More arrests will be made after scrutinising the visuals of the agitators.’’ He also said that police would give security for women who wanted to visit the temple in the ensuing pilgrim season.
Two BJP activists Suresh Kumar and Anoj Kumar, from Pathanamthitta, have moved petitions in the HC that police are harassing and illegally arresting those who had participated in peaceful prayer meetings.
While considering the pleas, a division bench of Justices P R Ramachandra Menon and Devan Ramachandran warned the police and said they would have to pay a heavy price if they resorted to arresting innocent persons. “Arrest should be made in the case of persons whose role in the incidents is confirmed. Police should not play to the gallery,” the bench said and asked the government to furnish an affidavit next Monday.
The police action has irked the NSS, which has been supporting the CPI (M) government over the last two years, but locked horns with it over the Sabarimala issue. NSS general secretary G Sukumaran Nair said the police action against devotees reminded him of the Emergency.
“The arrest of devotees is undemocratic and immoral. The government did not move a review petition against the SC verdict, but it also did not allow the Travancore Devaswom Board to file a review. The Chief Minister has insulted the temple supreme priest and the royal family of Pandalam. The faithful are hurt. The NSS will conduct prayer meetings in all its units on October 31,’’ he said.
BJP state general secretary M T Ramesh said the CPI (M) step back from the ongoing “Hindu hunt”. “Police have fabricated several faithful in cooked up cases. However, such cases will not deter our workers from the agitation,” he said.
According to Sabarimala Action Committee convener and VHP leader, S J R Kumar, the police action was intended to weaken the morale of the protesters. “Even if police arrest 10,000, thousands of other devotees are ready to sacrifice their life for protecting the sanctity of Sabarimala. We have taken all legal steps to ensure bail of the arrested. Our protest would be intensified when the temple is opened next month,’’ he said.