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Kerala HC warns govt not to play to gallery over mass arrest of Sabarimala protesters

The number of people arrested for allegedly holding violent protests against women’s entry into the shrine crossed 2,500 and state police chief Loknath Behra said more arrests will take place in the coming days.

india Updated: Oct 26, 2018 19:54 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Sabarimala,Sabarimala temple,Sabarimala protest
Protesters oppose the entry of women to the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala on October 19.(PTI Photo)

The Kerala high court on Friday warned the state government not to play to the gallery and harass innocent people amid the mass arrest of Sabarimala devotees, who protested against the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to worship at the shrine earlier this month.

The division bench of the court, while hearing a petition filed by two devotees, said the government will have to pay a heavy price if it arrested innocent and sought a report from it by Monday.

In their plea, the petitioners said the police were arresting innocent devotees who participated in peaceful ‘nama japa yatra’ (hymn singing campaign) and some of them were slapped with non-bailable offences.

The court will take up the case again on Monday.

The temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, which opened for monthly rituals on October 18 for the first time after the Supreme Court’s September 28 verdict allowing women of menstruating age to worship there, had witnessed large-scale violence.

At least 12 women who came to worship at the shrine were prevented from going inside by angry protesters as police baton-charged devotees in two base camps of Pambha and Nilakkal, when the agitation took a violent turn.

The number of people arrested for allegedly holding violent protests against women’s entry into the shrine crossed 2,500 and state police chief Loknath Behra said more arrests will take place in the coming days.

“We are taking suggestions from a police committee on how to provide protection to women. We will discuss it with government as well. Discussions are going on, we haven’t yet come to a conclusion,” director general of police Behera was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

The Nair Service Society, a socio-cultural organisation of the dominant Nair community, has also come down heavily on mass arrests.

“The government’s acts and utterances will even shame the Emergency days. Many devotees, who took part in peaceful prayer meetings, were arrested from their house during odd hours,” said a statement from the NSS condemning the police action.

The issue has taken a political colour after the recent violence during the pilgrimage season, with the ruling Left Democratic Front on one side and the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the other.

Both blamed the state government for its handling of the situation that had resulted in violence. But after initial outbursts, the Congress has mellowed a bit but the BJP has hardened its position, eyeing a split in majority community votes, say political analysts.

The saffron party’s president Amit Shah will arrive in Kerala on Saturday for one-day visit as the hill temple continued to remain a flashpoint. Shah is expected to take the ongoing agitation of the party to the next level, said party leaders.

Shah will have a special session with state leaders on Saturday night to discuss the prevailing political situation in the state, said a senior party functionary.

The state government has said there was a big conspiracy to turn the pilgrim spot into a battlefield and that they handled the situation effectively and averted bloodshed.

“The Sangh Parivar wanted to fan trouble and exploit the situation. But the secular government won’t allow their game plan,” state temple minister Kadakampally Surendran said.

First Published: Oct 26, 2018 19:54 IST