Devotees are not terrorists: Union minister after late-night clashes at Sabarimala

Sabarimala: Sunday night ended on a tense note at Sabarimala with the Kerala police taking into custody over 80 devotees for defying prohibitory orders at the temple.

Due to previous incidents of violence at the hill-top shrine, the police had imposed strict restrictions on devotees at Sannidhanam. The devotees were not allowed to stay back during the night.

However, On the second day of the two-month-long pilgrimage season, devotees gathered at the covered pathway to the temple when they were asked to leave Sannidhanam.

The development which occurred post 10:30 pm on Sunday saw scores of devotees attempting to occupy the Nadapandal (the enclosure leading to the 18 steps) – which is off limits for devotees post 10 pm. The protesting devotees reportedly demanded to spread their viris or sheets and spend the night at the Nadapandal.

“We are still checking who the troublemakers are. Several people had assembled yesterday. Some of them were the party workers (from the RSS and BJP) and a lot of devotees too were mixed into the crowd. They did not just attempt to break the prohibitory orders, we suspect they were there to create tensions at the temple,” a police officer at the Sannidhanam police station, where the case was registered, was quoted as saying by TNM.

The BJP will intensify the agitations with its youth wing expected to hold a state-wide protest against “police high-handedness”. On Sunday, BJP workers had blocked several roads and highways in Kerala protesting the arrest of a senior party leader, K Surendran, who was arrested for trying to reach the temple despite the police stopping him.

“A situation worse than emergency is happening here. The devotees are not allowed to go up. Section 144 is imposed for no reason. Devotees are not terrorists. Why do they need 15,000 policemen here?” said Union Minister KJ Alphons who will visit the temple today.

Meanwhile, KP Sasikala, a right-wing leader who was at the forefront of the protests and arrested last week, is on her way to the temple. She was released on Saturday.

“Section 144 had been declared in the area. We had asked them to disperse after the Harivarasanam but most of them refused,” police officer Pratheesh Kumar reportedly said, adding that the police was not against the devotees who wished to offer prayers.

The Sabarimala temple had opened on Friday for the third time in a month for the two-month long pilgrim season.

With huge protests marking the 5-day opening of the temple last month, the state government, which promised to uphold the Supreme Court order, has deployed over 15,000 police personnel.