Kerala paralysed by protests over women entering Sabarimala Hindu temple

Hindu traditionalists clash with police across the southern Indian state

Policemen stand guard during a march by Bharatiya Janata Party activists as part of a strike call by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organization of Hindu groups, in Thiruvananthapuram, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Hindu hard-liners shut shops and businesses and clashed with police in the state Thursday to protest the entry of two women in one of India's largest Hindu pilgrimage sites. (AP Photo/R.S. Iyer)

Clashes broke out between Hindu hardliners and police in Kerala for a second day on Thursday, after two women defied traditionalists to enter one of India’s holiest temples in the southern state.

Violence across Kerala on Wednesday left one person dead and 15 injured after news spread that the two women, escorted by police and dressed in black, had entered the Sabarimala temple and prayed before dawn.

This was the first time that women of menstruating age – deemed as those aged between 10 and 50 – had set foot in the gold-plated temple, located on a hilltop in a tiger reserve, since India’s Supreme Court overturned a ban in September.

Thousands of Hindu devotees, many of them female, had prevented women from reaching the site in the weeks after the ruling, with some hardliners hurling stones at police and attacking female reporters.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women, in a local government-backed initiative, braved harassment to form a huge human chain called the "Women's Wall" across Kerala to back the demand for access to the temple.

Kerala police said the man who died on Wednesday was part of a demonstration organised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party – not part of Kerala’s state government – in the town of Pandalam and was hit by stones thrown at protesters.

Police on Wednesday used teargas, stun grenades and water cannon after demonstrations turned violent and clashes broke out between rival groups, including outside the state parliament in the capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Kerala remained tense on Thursday, with more riot police sent to the area and four people stabbed in clashes across the state, media reports claimed.

Journalists were assaulted in the city of Palakkad during a march organised by the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a hardline Hindu group and ideological mentor of Mr Modi’s party.

A police officer wields his stick against the members of Kerala Students Union (KSU), the student wing of India's main opposition Congress party, outside a police station during a protest in Kochi, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

In the coastal city of Kozhikode police used teargas to disperse protesters who tried to enforce a shutdown called for by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy.

Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan accused the BJP and the RSS of trying to turn Sabarimala into a “battle zone”.

On Tuesday, Mr Modi – running for a second term in elections later this year – appeared to support the temple ban, saying the matter was related to tradition.

“There are some temples that have their own traditions, where men can’t go. And men don’t go,” Mr Modi said.

The Supreme Court on January 22 will start hearing a legal challenge to its ruling.