Riot-like conditions at Sabarimala as devotees exchange stones with police

Riot-like conditions prevailed in Nilakkal and surrounding areas as thousands of Ayyappa devotees and Kerala Police engaged in pitched battle involving stone throwing and lathi charges.

The situation worsened after the police moved early morning to dismantle the local pandals put up by devotees, who had used the camp to conduct vehicle checking yesterday.

Women devotees had conducted checks at Nilakkal on all vehicles going to Sabarimala and forced young women planning to go the shrine to turn back.

The state government had come under criticism for not doing anything to check the vigilante groups from blocking women from going to the hilltop temple.

In an effort to rectify the situation, the police dismantled the shed put up by the devotees on the roadside early morning. However, by around noon, around 2,000 male devotees and activists pelted stones at the area where the nearly 200 policemen were put up.

This led to the police chasing the protesters away. The protestors hid in the nearby jungle and continued to pelt stones at the police, who occupied the road.

While many BJP and RSS workers have been involved in the protests and demonstrations, BJP workers today claimed that the violence and stone pelting was not done by them.

Members of several Hindu organizations are present at the venue.

“We cannot take responsibility for all the people who have collected here,” state leader K Surendran said, adding that RSS-BJP workers will not be involved in any kind of violence.

Media, which has been criticizing the protesters for several days, were also at the receiving end of the activists’ ire today. Cars and equipment such as cameras were destroyed by protesters.

The government is planning to send in Kerala Police’s Commando force to ensure peace, according to reports.

Meanwhile, the Congress Party has stepped back after giving full support to the protesters in the intial days.

Congress leader Mullappally Ramachandran said his party was not interested in any protests that relied on violence. He also alleged that the BJP was trying to use the issue to increase its appeal among the state’s voters.

The temple is schedule to open today evening for monthly puja.

Women who tried to reach the temple turned back after scuffles with the female brigades of the protestors.

A woman, Libi CS, who turned up to exercise her right to enter the temple, was forced to go back in face of strong opposition by devotees.

She requested for support from the government in view of rising tension near her home.