Protests erupted across Kerala on Wednesday after two women in the hitherto banned age group entered the Sabarimala temple before dawn, with the Sabarimala Karma Samithi (SMS) calling for a state-wide shutdown on Thursday.
The temple was shut for an hour to conduct “purification rituals” after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed that Bindu and Kanaka Durga had ‘darshan’ at 3.30 a.m., having been stopped on December 24 by predominantly male pilgrims from entering the hill shrine.
The temple was reopened after an hour.
SKS activists vowed not to rest till Vijayan was ousted from office and called a dawn-to-dusk shutdown on Thursday.
Speaking to the media over telephone, Bindu said she and Durga reached the Pamba base camp around 1.30 a.m. and along with a few police officers in civilian clothes went up the pathway.
“The government had assured us all help… We, however, did not climb the hallowed 18 steps, instead went through the way normally used by VIPs,” said Bindu.
“We did not have any problems. Barring minor protests, there was no other issue.”
As the news spread, Sangh Parivar outfits took to the streets across Kerala blocking traffic, burning tyres on main roads and stoning buses.
In the state capital, the police used water canons and tear gas to disperse clashing CPI-M and Sangh Parivar activists.
Protests were also reported from Kochi, Palghat, Kozhikode and Kasargode.
Kerala’s biggest traders’ body, KVVES, announced it won’t shut shops on Thursday as frequent strikes were causing huge losses.
Once it became known that the two women had entered the temple, the chief priest and temple tantri met the Pandalam Royal family and decided to shut the shrine for “purification rituals”.
Women and girls in the age group of 10 to 50 are barred from praying at the Sabarimala temple. This ban was struck down by the Supreme Court in September.
Industries Minister E.P. Jayarajan said the tantri had no right to close the temple.
“This is a challenge to the judiciary. The government only did its role in upholding the Supreme Court directive,” he told journalists.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala called for protests against the Left government. “Vijayan will have to pay a heavy price for this,” he said.
Another Congress leader, K. Sudhakaran, called Vijayan “a fascist” and said the two women who entered the temple were his “puppets”.
State CPI-M Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said there was no reason to shut the temple.
“Those who should observe the temple rules are themselves violating it,” he said. “The role of the government is to abide by the Supreme Court order and it has done just that. The police did their job of providing security to the women.”
Nair Service Society’s General Secretary Sukumaran Nair thanked the temple priests for closing the temple for “purification rituals”.
State BJP General Secretary M.T. Ramesh thundered that Vijayan will have to pay “a heavy price” for violating the temple traditions.
“What they did was to act like cowards. In pitch darkness, they took the two women,” he said, adding that protests would be held in Kerala on Wednesday and Thursday.
BJP activists protested in front of Devasom (Temples) Minister Kadakampally Surendran when he came to attend a programme in Guruvayoor.
Similar protests took place when Health Minister K.K. Shailaja came for a function at her home district in Kannur.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple.
Since then, around three dozen women in that age group have tried but failed to go up the pathway leading to the temple due to protests. (IANS)