Indian police charge protesters at flashpoint temple, South Asia News & Top Stories

Indian police charge protesters at flashpoint temple, South Asia News & Top Stories

The centuries-old ban reflected an old but still prevalent belief that menstruating women are impure, and the fact that Ayyappa was reputed to have been celibate. 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.

Nilakkal is a halting place for Ayyappa devotees during the Sabarimala pilgrimage and located about 23 km from the temple. A physical altercation occurred between the police and the "devotees" at night, when police used force to prevent the latter from stopping vehicles to search for women.

The entry of women at Sabarimala was long taboo but was formalised by the Kerala High Court in 1991, a ruling overturned by India's Supreme Court last month.

Some conservatives have also criticised the protests.

During the day, demonstrators clashed on four occasions at Nilackal and Pamba with the police, leaving some protesters and police personnel injured.

Both the Congress - the main opposition party in Kerala - and the BJP, which is desperately seeking to expand its footprint in the state, have lent support to the agitation against the Supreme Court verdict. Pampa was the original base camp to the temple, which was destroyed by the floods in July.

Hours ahead of the opening of the hill shrine for the monthly prayer, the police said they would not let anyone block the movement of the people.

Taking full control of Nilackal, police also warned against those who creating hurdles for pilgrims. Another woman from Alappuzha district of Keala, said to be in the below 50 years age group, who was on the way to Sabarimala armed with the Supreme Court order was stopped from proceeding at the Pathanamthitta bus terminal by passengers. They went after her.

Some activists of the Sabarimala Achara Samrakshana Samiti, who had stayed back at Nilakkal, also allegedly prevented media persons from carrying out their professional duty. Republic TV reported that its South Bureau Chief Pooja Prasanna and her crew were attacked by a mob of over 100 men en route Sabarimala. Unable to bear the anger Madhavi made a decision to return.

It was an intimidating atmosphere for journalists - one can only imagine what it was like for any women wanting to attend the temple.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, V Nandakumar, Chief Communications Officer at Lulu Group, said: "We have a strict and zero tolerance policy with regard to our staff misusing social media to spread malicious or derogatory comments which might hurt religious sentiments".

Groups of women devotees including senior citizens, clad in traditional sarees, had stopped each and every vehicle at Nilackal Tuesday.

Thousands of protesters gathered on the roads leading to the hilltop temple and heckled any woman they suspected was going there.

The incident happened despite the heavy deployment of police personnel in and around Pamba.

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