Temple opens amid violent protests; Section 144 to be imposed

Sabarimala to open today Kerala braces for law vs faith standoff

Mob attempts to block first entry of women of menstruating age to sacred Hindu temple

When the mobs showed no signs of backing down, the police, several of them in full riot gear, resorted to lathi-charge, chasing them through the small undulating hills marking Nilakkal.

Even as streets in Nilakkal and Pamba erupted in tumult, thousands of bare-chested Ayyappa devotees waited patiently in the vast concourse outside Sabarimala for its gates to open at the appointed hour-5 pm.

The remarks from the firebrand BJP veteran came amid reports that entry of women pilgrims coming under the menstruating age was being still opposed by several Hindu right-wing outfits.

A total 30 people have been arrested in Pamba -- nine on Tuesday and 21 so far on Wednesday, in connection with protests against the entry of women into the Sabarimala Temple. Stones were thrown at them outside the police van and lathis were snatched from them by the mob. Taking full control of Nilakkal, police also warned against those who create hurdles in the ways of pilgrims to the hill shrine.

Sobha Surendran, BJP general secretary, told the Indian Express, "This is an orchestrated agenda by the Left-front government". Libi C.S., a young journalist who is the editor of a news website Newsgil, had in a Facebook post on Wednesday announced that she was likely to travel to Sabarimala. Easwar, who was kept at the Pamba police station, said Ayyappa devotees only wanted their right under Article 25 of the constitution that provided for freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion to be protected.

Pathanamthitta District Collector P.B. Nooh said Section 144 will be enforced in view of the "widespread protests of today".

Around 10 journalists were attacked near the Sabarimala temple in Kerala as protests against women's entry into the temple turned violent on Wednesday.

The tents of the protestors under Achara Samrakshana Samithi were cleared by the police. Up to 50 million devotees visit the temple each year. They undertake a rigorous 41-day fast before they begin the pilgrimage. "A team of commandos will also be deployed soon", he said.

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The restriction reflected an old but still prevalent belief among many that menstruating women are impure, and the fact that the deity Ayyappa was reputed to have been celibate.

"The Sabarimala issue should not be allowed to flare up".

All small towns leading to Sabarimala, Erumeli, Vadessrikara, in Pathanamthitta remained tense as police said they would not let anyone to block the movement of the people.

Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala blamed both the ruling CPI (M) and the BJP-RSS combine for violence.

But Kerala's provincial government led by the Communist Party of India has declared its determination to uphold the Supreme Court ruling and not give into "the activists 'strong arm tactics".

Hundreds of policemen and women guarded the main gateway to temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa, which opened for the first time after the Supreme Court verdict that allowed women of all ages access to the shrine.

From Thursday onwards, regular poojas and other rituals like "ganapathi pooja" and "neyyabhishekam" would be held till October 22, according to the schedule.

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