Widespread protests in Kerala over late night police crackdown in Sabarimala

SABARIMALA, NOV 19: Activists of the BJP, Yuva Morcha and other right-wing outfits on Monday stepped up protests across Kerala against the late night police crackdown at the Ayyappa temple complex here and the subsequent detention of 68 people.Meanwhile, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan made it clear that the Left government was with the believers, adding that those arrested were not Ayyappa devotees."They were not Ayyappa devotees. RSS workers were camping at Sannidhanam with a motive to create trouble. The government cannot let anyone create trouble at Sabarimala," Vijayan said at the state conference of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ).The day also saw Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam visiting Nilackal, Pamba and Sannidhanam to take stock of the various facilities at the hill shrine, where lakhs of devotees from across the country and outside visit each year.Kannanthanam, who arrived at Nilackal, the base camp, Monday morning said, "The state government has turned the temple complex into a war zone. The devotees are not militants, they are pilgrims"."Pilgrims are being treated like dacoits. They have imposed Section 144 in a place where people live peacefully. What was the need to impose Section 144 at Sabarimala?" he told reporters.The minister said there was lack of basic facilities at the temple complex, adding the Centre had provided Rs 100 crore for putting up various facilities at Sabarimala."We gave Rs 100 crore, but they have not spent even a rupee," he said.

The Union tourism minister's visit came hours after 100 odd devotees protested late Saturday night by chanting "nama japam" (chantings in the name of Lord Ayyappa) against the lack of facilities and police restrictions.Hitting back, Kerala Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said the Union tourism ministry had in 2016 sanctioned Rs 99.98 crore for spiritual circuit project for the development of Sabarimala, of which only Rs 18 crore had been released so far.Meanwhile, five Yuva Morcha activists waved party flags and two of them tried to jump in front of the chief minister's convoy Monday morning.Two of them have been arrested, Kozhikode district police chief S Kaliraj Mahesh Kumar told PTI.The activists also took out a march to the state secretariat in Thirvananthapuram.CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged the RSS had launched "Khalistan model" agitation in Sabarimala to take control of the holy hill shrine.Leader of the opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala slammed the government for the police action, saying the government was trying to "brand" Ayyappa devotees as Sangh Parivar activists.Condemning the police action as "cruel", BJP state unit chief PS Sreedharan Pillai demanded a judicial probe into the matter.Police sources told PTI that 68 people had been taken into preventive custody from the temple and brought to the Manniyar camp early Monday morning.The details of the detainees are being verified and the arrests have not been recorded yet, they said.Caught unawares by the showdown on the second day of the two-month long pilgrim season, the police officials asked the protestors to disperse. When they refused, the security force took 68 of them into custody early morning, the first such incident witnessed at Sabarimala.

The development led to protests across the state, including in front of the official residence of the chief minister in Thiruvananthapuram.

Those taken into custody have been brought to the Manniyar police camp and BJP leaders led by Shobha Surendran are holding "nama japam" protest in front of the camp, sources said.

In another development, Hindu Aikya Vedi president KP Sasikala, who was at the shrine for the "chorunnu ceremony" (rice feeding) of her grandsons, was served a notice by Superintendent of Police Yatish Chandra at Nilackal Monday morning, informing her that she could remain at the 'Sannidhanam' only for six hours.

Sasikala had been taken into preventive custody from near the temple premises two days ago for flouting police regulations and had been released after being produced before the magistrate.

A day later, BJP state general secretary K Surendran was arrested from Nilackal after he refused to heed the police plea not to go to the hill shrine at night.

Devotees chanting 'nama japam' had gathered at the covered pathway to the temple and had refused to disperse even after the shrine closed at 11pm.

Since prohibitory orders had been imposed, the police informed them that they should leave as they cannot stay back.

Police sources said they had information that the protesters might create trouble at Sannidhanam and took the precautionary measures accordingly.

Temple board moves SC seeking more time to implement verdict

The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has moved the Supreme Court+ seeking more time to implement its verdict allowing women of all age groups to enter Kerala's Sabarimala temple.

The Board, which manages the hill shrine, has cited lack of basic amenities among other things as the reason for seeking more time from the top court.

Pilgrims had said there was lack of adequate toilet facilities, causing immense difficulties especially to women, and rest rooms after the floods in August that had destroyed the infrastructure.

The top court had earlier refused to stay its verdict while agreeing to hear in open court a batch of petitions seeking review of its September 28 verdict+ by which it had lifted the ban on entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple.