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Sabarimala rabble-rouser Sasikala Teacher arrested

Arrest of Sangh Parivar face prompts strike that leaves thousands of pilgrims stranded

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore

  • Published 18.11.18, 3:22 AM
  • Updated 18.11.18, 10:38 AM
A deserted bus depot during a strike called to protest against the arrest of Hindu Aikya Vedi President KP Sasikala from Sabarimala, in Kozhikode, on Saturday.
A deserted bus depot during a strike called to protest against the arrest of Hindu Aikya Vedi President KP Sasikala from Sabarimala, in Kozhikode, on Saturday. PTI

The “guardians” of the Hindu religion scored an own goal on Saturday after a Sangh parivar rabble-rouser was arrested to prevent her visiting the Sabarimala temple, calling a state-wide shutdown that played spoiler for the pilgrimage by leaving thousands of devotees stranded.

The 12-hour strike was called shortly after the police took Hindu Aikyavedi president K.P. Sasikala Teacher, known for her inflammatory speeches, into preventive custody around 3am.

Temple board officials conceded that the inflow was low on Friday, the first day of the main visiting season, suggesting the protests and violence during the earlier two pilgrimage windows had scared people.

On Saturday, many Ayyappa devotees who had already set out for the temple — many of them from other states — were stuck till evening at various places in Kerala, often without food and water because all the shops were closed.

Few government buses plied. Sabarimala pilgrims travelling in private or hired vehicles were stopped by the bandh enforcers.

Sasikala had arrived in Marakkoottam — near Pampa from where pilgrims make the 5km trek to the shrine — under heavy media glare on Friday night, meaning to set off for the temple in the morning.

She was woken by policewomen and arrested lest she incite the mobs of “devotees” and parivar activists massed near the temple, watching

out for any woman of childbearing age.

No woman aged between 10 and 50 has yet been allowed to enter the temple since the Supreme Court lifted the age bar on September 28.

Sasikala, who is in her early 50s, began a hunger-strike inside the Ranni police station, prompting hundreds of parivar activists to gather outside and chant slogans. A semblance of calm returned after Sasikala told them the administration had agreed to let her enter the temple under police escort.

She was later freed on bail but cited the fatigue from the hunger-strike to say she “might not” visit the temple on Saturday. “I don’t think I’m in a condition to climb the hill today,” she said.

Devaswom (temple affairs) minister K. Surendran slammed the parivar and the “venom-spewing Sasikala” for the pilgrims’ ordeal and the vitiated atmosphere.

State BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai said the “violation of Sasikala’s constitutional rights” was why “the devotees got agitated and called for a shutdown”.

Later, the police took Pillai and three others accompanying him into preventive custody from a base camp after they insisted on going to the temple despite officers asking them to wait till morning.

Protests broke out soon at many places, with the police having to use water cannons on BJP cadres in Thiruvananthapuram.

A 46-year-old woman, Mary Sweety, who had tried to enter the temple on October 19, was identified by parivar activists as she got into a government bus heading to Pampa on Saturday evening. The police sent her back to Thiruvananthapuram.