Sabarimala: Over 70 pilgrims have been arrested since late last night from Sabarimala temple after they failed to comply to prohibitory orders leading to protests here and across Kerala, police said on Monday.
While angry Hindu acitivists took to streets, raised slogans and held prayer sessions in front of police stations across the state, Union Minister K.J. Alphons criticised the state government for the action.
As news spread about the arrests, in Thiruvanathapuram protesters assembled near Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's residence and shouted slogans.
The situation grew tense late Sunday, when over 200 pilgrims did not vacate the temple premise after 10 p.m., as ordered by the state administration and stayed put, singing Lord Ayyappa hymns and chants.
As they continued despite repeated requests from the police, action was initiated to forcefully evict the premise. This led to 72 arrests in a post-midnight action.
They were taken to the Maniar Police Camp in Pathanamthitta district and were to be produced before a court later Monday, Superintendent of Police Prathish Kumar said.
Alphons on Monday reacted sharply to the arrests, and told the media in Nilackal, before heading to the shrine: "I fail to understand why the Kerala Police has clamped prohibitory orders. This is not the way things should be handled. Sabarimala pilgrims are not extremists. You cannot use force in this place."
Kerala Minister for Devasoms (Temples) Kadakampally Surendran reacting sharply to the allegations said it was not pilgrims but Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) goons who had taken over the Lord Ayyappa shrine and backed the action.
"Unlike he (Alphons) who was a senior IAS officer, who later became a legislator with us and then moved on to greener pastures, am only a simple political activist. But he should not have said things without knowing facts," Surendran said.
Alphons who was headed to the hill temple said that he would inspect how the state has utilised the Rs 100 crore-relef fund from the Centre. "I will go around the temple town to make sure how the funds have been used."
Surendran said: "It's true that the Centre has sanctioned Rs 100 crore for various projects in Sabarimala and the deadline for implementing it ends in July 2019.
"Moreover the unprecedented floods saw close to Rs 19 crore of work in progress in projects getting washed away in September.
"What happened in the temple premises last night was a takeover by the RSS goons. The police pleaded with them to return as it's against the law to remain there. It was only after they refused to move, did the police act."
After going around the place he said the state government has failed miserably in setting up the basic infrastructure.
" Toilets are Aplaced five feet above the ground and it appears one needs a lift to go to the toilet," said Alphons.
State BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai told the media that a judicial probe has to be conducted to what happened last night at Sabarimala, as this is the first time in the history of the temple that there has been police action against pilgrims.
Leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala told the media that it's most unfortunate that pilgrims are held in police custody and the state government should release them at the earliest.
Medical check up is being done on the 72 arrested people at the Maniar Police Camp in Pathanamthitta district and Aafter it's over they will be produced before a court, near here.
Superintendent of Police Prathish Kumar told the media the arrests were made as protesters even after being informed to disperse once the temple closed at 10 p.m, did not move out.
Forces of the sangh parivar has announced to hold protests on Monday across the state. Security has been heightened for Vijayan, who has official engagements in Kozhikode.
The Sabarimala temple opened its doors at 5 p.m. on November 17 for two months.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since the September 28 when the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the temple that hitherto banned girls and women aged between 10 and 50.
The apex court on November 13 refused to stay that verdict.
While the Kerala government is trying hard to see that the apex court verdict is implemented, the BJP/RSS, sangh parivar forces and the Congress-led UDF are up in arms against violation of the temple tradition.