Sabarimala/New Delhi: Kerala continued to simmer on Monday as activists of the BJP, Yuva Morcha and other right-wing outfits stepped up protests across the state against the police crackdown at the Lord Ayyappa shrine and the subsequent detention of 69 people.
The Kerala High Court too expressed its displeasure over the manner in which the devotees were dealt with by the police at the "Sannidhanam", saying policemen should be in the barracks and not harass pilgrims. Given the tense situation, there was a dip in arrivals at the shrine which is visited by lakhs of pilgrims during the annual pilgrimage season.
As a war of words erupted over the police action, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan maintained that those who had been arrested were not Ayyappa devotees, but RSS workers camping at Sannidhanam, the temple complex. Asserting that his government was with the devotees, Vijayan said it was being targeted for trying to implement the Supreme Court order permitting entry of all women into the shrine.
Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam, on a visit to Nilakkal, Pamba and Sannidhanam to take stock of the various facilities at the hill shrine, lashed out at the state goverment, saying the temple complex had been turned into a "war zone" and devotees were being treated as "dacoits".
Meanwhile, citing lack of basic amenities, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) moved the Supreme Court seeking more time to implement its September 28 verdict allowing women of all age groups to pray at the hill shrine. The TDB move came amid the stand-off over entry of women in the 10-50 age group, traditionally barred at the shrine.
The day also saw three young women expressing their desire to visit the holy shrine, but in a "friendly atmosphere". Reshma Nishant and Anila from Kannur district and Dhanya from Kollam district said they had been observing the "vritham" (the mandatory austerities for visiting Sabarimala) for visiting the shrine.
Since the September 28 top court verdict, no women in the 10-50 age group has succeeded in offering prayers at the shrine, where the deity is "Naishtika Brahmachari" (perennial celebate). About a dozen women, including social activist, Trupti Desai, had made futile efforts to go to Sabarimala.
Sixty-nine people, picked up from the temple complex early on Monday and subsequently arrested, were produced before a court here on Monday evening and remanded to 14 days judicial custody. The men, who had participated in the "nama japam" (clapping and chanting the name of Ayyappa) protest were detained late last night from the temple complex after they refused to vacate the "nadapandal" (pathway leading to the shrine) despite repeated pleas by the police.
Protesting the police action, activists of the BJP, its youth wing Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and other right-wing outfits Monday escalated their protests across Kerala.
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 said. The activists also took out a march to the state secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram.
Slamming the RSS, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan alleged the RSS had launched "Khalistan model" agitation in Sabarimala to take control of the shrine.
Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said the government was trying to "brand" Ayyappa devotees as Sangh Parivar activists. Declaring an "open agitation" against the state government over the issue, he said a UDF delegation, comprising coalition leaders, would violate the prohibitory order clamped in Sabarimala Tuesday, if the state government did not withdraw it.
BJP state unit chief PS Sreedharan Pillai demanded a judicial probe into the police action.
As the shrine opened on the third day of the "Mandala Makkaravillaku" pilgrimage season, there was a steep fall in the arrival of devotees, especially from Kerala. According to police sources, so far around 60,000 devotees have visited the shrine since it opened on Friday evening for the 64-day annual pilgrimage season.