A dawn-to-dusk Kerala shutdown called by Sangh Parivar-backed Sabarimala Action Council after two women in their forties entered Sabarimala temple witnessed major violence on Thursday, with 745 people being arrested and 79 state buses damaged in stone-pelting.
Both the BJP and Congress extended support to the hartal, the fourth state-wide strike over the issue since last year’s SC verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the hilltop shrine.
The protests escalated after a BJP worker, Chandran Unnithan, who was injured in violence at Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district, succumbed to his injuries. About 559 cases have been registered and 628 people have been taken into preventive custody as clashes between the protesters and opponents spilt into Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kasargode and Kannur districts.
Many media personnel, including women, were attacked and about 31 policemen were injured. A number of CPI-M offices also came under attack. In Nedumangadu, crude bombs were thrown at CPI(M) offices and residences of some party leaders were also attacked.
The CPI district office in Palakkad also faced the wrath of protesters and clashes between CPM-BJP workers were also reported in the town. Police had to fire tear gas shells to disperse the protesters.
The state has been on the boil since Wednesday after two women in their early 40s, Bindu and Kanakadurga, entered the Sabarimala temple under police protection for the first time since the Supreme Court lifted the ban. After the news of their visit became public, the Sabarimala tanthri closed the temple for an hour for “purification” rituals.
The matter reached the Supreme Court after advocate PV Dinesh, appearing for Indian Young Lawyers Association, filed a petition seeking contempt proceedings against the priest. However, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice SK Kaul refused an urgent hearing into the matter and said it would be taken up on January 22 along with review petitions.
With the violence showing no signs of abating, the Kerala police launched a special drive, ‘Operation Broken Window’, to take action against those indulging in violent protests. Under the operation, the special branch of the police will prepare a list of those indulging in violence and hand it over to the district police chiefs for further action.
Digital teams have been formed to create photo albums of such criminals. Cases will be registered against all those who indulge in hate campaigns and communal campaigns on social media, a statement said.
Even though traders and tourism sector companies had announced that they would boycott the hartal, citing financial losses, in several places shops failed to open. After some traders opened their shops in Kozhikode, a group of Hindutva activists forcibly closed them down. In the process, numerous shops suffered damages. University examinations scheduled for Thursday were postponed. All educational institutions in the state were shut.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Thursday lashed out at BJP and RSS for unleashing violence, saying it was a ‘conspiracy for political gains’ and would be dealt with strongly. “The trouble started after the Sangh Parivar forces went on a rampage attacking police, damaging numerous vehicles. We have decided that at no cost will the authorities be silent and very strong action will be taken,” he said.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said all this was bound to happen “when senseless people rule the state”. “CM Vijayan is solely responsible for what is happening here. He has created the platform for the Sangh Parivar forces to go berserk and create mayhem and this is the eighth shutdown called to protest the Sabarimala temple issue,” he said.