Right-wing activists went on the rampage through Wednesday and Thursday.
The Kerala police had arrested 1,369 protesters and took 717 into preventive custody until Friday morning in the wake of violence that erupted over the entry of two middle-aged women into the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala. This number includes two CPI(M) workers who were arrested earlier today in connection with the death of a right-wing activist during a clash in Pandalam.
Police have registered 801 cases related to the violence that broke out after various Hindu groups called for a state-wide shutdown of shops and other establishments yesterday to protest against the entry of the women.
On Wednesday, two Malayalee women in their forties — Bindu and Kanakadurga — unexpectedly entered the temple premises around 3.45 am and offered prayers in the presence of police personnel. Right-wing activists armed with stones and crude bombs took to the streets in protest, clashing with the police and threatening local businessmen. Chandran Unnithan, a Sabarimala Karma Samiti worker, died in a clash with CPI(M) activists at Pandalam. By evening the next day, nearly 750 protesters had been arrested and over 30 policemen injured.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government, however, could not be deterred from its decision to uphold the September 28 Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the hill shrine. Sasikala, a 46-year-old woman from Sri Lanka, became the third person to successfully undertake the Sabarimala pilgrimage with police assistance on Thursday night.
The BJP has been scathing in its attacks on Mr Vijayan. Yesterday, Union Minister Ananth Kumar Hegde termed the state government's handling of the Sabarimala issue as the "daylight rape" of Hindus. Party leader V Muraleedharan also alleged that Ms Bindu and Ms Kanakadurga were Maoists, and the communist government in Kerala was guilty of helping them desecrate a religious site.
Incidentally, the chief priest had decided to close the sanctum sanctorum of the temple for over an hour in order to perform a "purification ceremony" after the women's visit. Kerala Minister EP Jayarajan called it contempt of court because untouchability is against the law.
The Supreme Court will start hearing a legal challenge to its previous ruling on January 22.