New Delhi: A day after two women entered the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala, the state on Thursday turned into a war zone as protesters armed with stones and crude bombs and mobs took to the streets during the dawn-to-dusk strike.
Hindu fringe groups rampaged through the streets of Kerala, fighting pitched battles with police and political rivals, leaving scores of people injured, including media. They placed burning tyres and granite blocks on the road and brought vehicular traffic to halt at several places.
The dawn-to-dusk 'Hartal' called by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organisation of pro-Hindutva groups, and the Antarrashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP), to protest the entry of two women of reproductive age into the Sabarimala temple on Wednesday virtually brought the state down to its knees.
Over 20 offices of the ruling CPI(M) and its other Left allies came under attack.
In Thrissur, three BJP activists were stabbed during a scuffle with workers of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
Chandran Unnithan, a 55-year-old man, died in stone-pelting incident on Wednesday. The post-mortem confirmed he died from serious head injuries.
Unnithan was part of the protest march taken out by Sabarimala Karma Samiti on Wednesday evening which came under attack by the CPI(M) workers.
As tempers ran high in Kerala, the Supreme Court refused to urgently hear a contempt petition moved by a lawyers' group against the Sabarimala temple authorities for closing the shrine for purification after two women entered it.
A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice S K Kaul said that the contempt petition will be heard along with the pending review petitions against the apex court verdict which allowed women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple.
As the state plunged into chaos, Governor P Sathasivam sought an "urgent report" from Chief Minister Vijayan on the disturbances.
"Sought from Chief Minister @CMOKerala an urgent Law and Order report on the incidents of violence and destruction of private & public property in Kerala following entry of two young women in #Sabarimala temple," the governor said in a tweet.
The BJP actively supported the hartal, while the main opposition Congress separately observed a 'black day' to protest the entry of the women into Sabarimala temple, the abode of Lord Ayyappa, its "eternally celibate" deity.
Nearly 750 troublemakers were arrested across the state for indulging in violence, while 628 others were taken into preventive custody, police said.
A staggering 559 cases were registered in connection with violent incidents.
More than 100 state buses were damaged causing a huge loss to the state exchequer.
The chief minister blamed the BJP-RSS combine for the violence and warned of stern action against the perpetrators.
He told reporters that the government was not against the belief of the believers, but owed allegiance to the Constitution.
"There was a clear planning to the violence unleashed by the hartal supporters. Since yesterday, there has been so much violence. Media personnel, including women, and police were among those attacked," Vijayan said.
He also slammed the Sabarimala head priest for conducting purification rituals after the entry of the two women, saying the Tantri should have quit if he was not ready to accept the Supreme Court verdict.
Protest demonstrations by the BJP and Sabarimala Karma Samithi turned violent at several places in Kozhikode, Kannur Malappuram, Palakkad and Thiruvananthapuram.
Police used batons and water-cannons to break up the protests.
The office of the CPI at Palakkad was attacked by protesters and the vehicles parked in front of it, including state transport corporation buses, auto-rickshaws and police vehicles were pelted with stones.
Protesters hurled a crude bomb at a local beedi manufacturing unit managed by the CPI(M) in Thalassery in Kannur district, but it did not explode, police said, adding 10 right-wing activists were arrested.
After at least 10 journalists faced the wrath of violent protesters since yesterday, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists decided to boycott the press meets called by the saffron party. Journalists also staged a protest march.
The state's police chief Lok Nath Behera said a special team will probe the assault on media.