Man sets himself ablaze at Sabarimala protest, dies; BJP targets Kerala CM
A 49-year-old man died after setting himself on fire near the venue of BJP leader CK Padmanabhan’s sit-down protest, against what he described as the Kerala government’s anti-Sabarimala stand, in Thiruvananthapuram early on Thursday.
The man, who was later identified as Venugopalan Nair, suffered 60% burns and was rushed to the Government Medical College hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Police said the incident happened around 3 am outside the state secretariat.Pouring petrol over himself and settling himself ablaze, he rushed to the protest site. In flames, Nair was heard chanting the ‘swami saranam’ hymns.
Workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and police immediately doused the fire and rushed him to the hospital, where doctors had termed his condition as serious.
Nair is reported to be a sympathiser of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and his relatives said he was disturbed over the situation in the Sabarimala temple.
Accusing chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan of being responsible for Nair’s death, the BJP has called a 12-hour shutdown in Kerala in protest. “The state government is responsible for the death of the devotee. it is playing with fire,” said party general secretary M T Ramesh while announcing the shutdown, the third since the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala verdict. The September 28 verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the hilltop shrine had been bitterly opposed by devotees, as well as the BJP and the Congress.
The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) district committee has termed the death of Nair an “unfortunate incident” but denied the report that he was associated with any party. “It is sad the RSS-BJP combine is using the unfortunate incident to fan trouble in the state,” said party district secretary A Nagappan.
The hilltop shrine has been witnessing violent protests by a section of devotees and right-wing groups since the Supreme Court verdict. Trouble began when the state government rushed to implement the top court’s order. Both the Congress and BJP feel the affidavit of the state government supporting women entry led to the top court’s verdict.
As the shrine opened for the annual pilgrimage on November 17, the state government imposed many restrictions at the hilltop and the base camps to tackle protesters and deployed more than 10,000 police personnel.
The state also witnessed two shutdowns over the issue and an uneasy calm is still prevailing at the temple. The top court will take up a bunch of review petitions against its verdict on January 22.