Thiruvananthapuram: Hurling crude bombs and stones, Hindu fringe groups Thursday rampaged through the streets of Kerala, fighting pitched battles with police and political rivals, leaving scores of people injured, including three BJP workers in a knife attack, officials said.
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.
Hordes of right-wing activists were on the streets soon after the shutdown began, placing burning tyres and granite blocks on the roads, bringing vehicular traffic to a halt at several places. The state was under siege as they attacked over 20 offices of the ruling CPI(M) and its other Left allies, and clashed with police, leaving at least 31 personnel injured.
In Thrissur, three BJP activists were stabbed during a scuffle with workers of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of Popular Front of India, a militant Islamic outfit, police said.
The incident occurred when saffron party workers attempted to force a restaurant to down the shutters. A 55-year-old man, who was seriously injured when CPI (M) workers hurled stones at protesters from atop their party office at Pandalam in Pathanamthitta district, died late Wednesday night.
However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told media that Chandran Unnithan died due to cardiac arrest. The post-mortem, however, later 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 CPI(M) workers.
Nine people accused of involvement in the attack have been identified and two of them arrested, police said. 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.
Advocate P V Dinesh appearing for Indian Young Lawyers Association told the bench that the temple authorities closed the shrine Wednesday for purification after the women’s entry which was in violation of the apex court verdict.
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.
Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) Chairman and Managing Director Tomin Thachankary told reporters that more that 100 buses were damaged causing a loss of Rs 3.35 crore to the debt-ridden public sector undertaking.
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.
The apex court had on 28 September lifted the ban on entry of girls and women in 10 -50 years age group into the shrine. 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.
Another crude bomb was thrown at Nedumangadu police station about 17 km from here but no damage was done, officials said. 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. Bindu and Kanakadurga, two women in their 40s, had defied dire threats from saffron organisations and offered prayers at the temple, breaking the centuries-old tradition and infuriating the Hindu right.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP V Muraleedhaan, meanwhile, sought a probe by the NIA into the “conspiracy” of police escorting the two women with Maoist links to Sabarimala. The CPI(Maoist) is an underground naxalite organisation which is banned in several states.