Clashes have broken out in southern India for a second day as Hindu hardliners sought to enforce a general shutdown in protest against two women entering the Sabarimala temple.
A day after violence between rival groups and police left one man dead and 15 people injured, authorities on Thursday said that 266 protesters had been arrested across the state of Kerala.
Hindu hardliners vandalised shops, shut businesses and clashed with police in the southern state to protest the women’s entrance in one of India’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites, police said.
Police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters, who also blocked roads by placing burning tires and concrete blocks in key towns.
Most shops remained shut in the state and most state-run buses kept off the roads after several were damaged by protesters.
Pinarayi Vijayan, the state’s top elected official said Thursday that 39 police officers were injured while trying to control the protesters.
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The Press Trust of India news agency reported that a 55-year-old passer-by died after being injured amid rock throwing by protesters in Pandalam on Wednesday.
At least 20 offices of the Communist Party of India, which governs Kerala in a left-wing alliance, were attacked, said Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, state party secretary.
Journalists were assaulted in the city of Palakkad during a march organised by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a hardline Hindu group and ideological parent of the BJP.
Vijayan accused BJP supporters of triggering the violence.
Two women entered the temple to pray early on Wednesday, leading to protests. They were escorted by police because it is “the government’s constitutional responsibility to give protection to women,” Vijayan said.
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Women of menstruating age were forbidden to pray at the temple until the Supreme Court lifted the ban in September. The ban was informal for many years but became law in 1972.
Some devotees have filed a petition, saying the court decision revoking the ban was an affront to the celibate deity Ayyappa.
Thousands of Hindu devotees, many of them female, had previously succeeded in preventing women from accessing the site in the weeks following the landmark ruling, with some hardliners throwing stones at police and assaulting female journalists. On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women, in a local government-backed initiative, had braved harassment to form a huge human chain called the “Women’s Wall” across Kerala to back the demand for access to the temple.