69 arrested Sabarimala pilgrims send to jail (Roundup)
Pathanamthitta (Kerala) : Sixty-nine pilgrims, who were arrested late Sunday night from Sabarimala temple after they defied prohibitory orders, were remanded to judicial custody by a court here on Monday.
All arrestees, who were kept at the Maniar Police Camp in Pathanamthitta district, were produced in the court that remanded them to 14-day judicial custody.
However, before taking them to the court, the police released one person who was below 18 years of age.
Consequent to Sunday's arrest, angry Hindu activists on Monday took to streets, raised slogans and held prayer sessions in front of police stations across the state. Union Minister K.J. Alphons also criticised the state government for the action.
As the news about arrests spread in Thiruvanathapuram, protesters assembled near Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's residence and shouted slogans.
The situation grew tense late Sunday when over 200 pilgrims did not vacate the temple premise even after 10 p.m, as ordered by the state administration, and stayed put singing Lord Ayyappa hymns and chants.
As they continued despite repeated requests from the police, action was initiated to forcefully evict the premises. This led to their arrests in a post-midnight action.
Alphons on Monday reacted sharply to the arrests, and told the media in Nilackal, before heading to the shrine: "I fail to understand why the Kerala Police has clamped prohibitory orders. This is not the way things should be handled. Sabarimala pilgrims are not extremists. You can't use force in this place."
Kerala Minister for Devaswoms (temples) Kadakampally Surendran, reacting sharply to the allegations said it was not pilgrims but Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) goons who had taken over the Lord Ayyappa shrine, and backed the police action.
"He (Alphons) should not have said things without knowing facts," Surendran said.
Alphons who was headed to the hill temple said he would inspect how the state has utilised the Rs 100-crore relief fund from the Centre. "I will go around the temple town to make sure how the funds have been used."
Surendran said: "It's true that the Centre has sanctioned Rs 100 crore for various projects in Sabarimala and the deadline for implementing it ends in July 2019.
"But the unprecedented floods saw close to Rs 19 crore of work in progress in projects getting washed away in September.
"What happened in the temple premises last night was a takeover by the RSS goons. The police pleaded with them to return as it's against the law to remain there. It was only after they refused to move that the police acted."
After going around the place, Alphons said the state government has failed miserably in setting up the basic infrastructure.
"Toilets are placed five feet above the ground and it appears one needs a lift to reach the toilet," said Alphons.
State BJP president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai told the media that a judicial probe must be conducted into what happened last night at Sabarimala, as this is the first time in the history of the temple that there has been police action against pilgrims.
Leader of the Opposition in Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala told the media that it is most unfortunate that pilgrims are held in police custody, and demanded that the state government release them at the earliest.
Superintendent of Police Prathish Kumar told reporters that the arrests were made after the protesters despite being asked to disperse once the temple closes at 10 p.m did not move out.
Right-wing activists held protests on Monday across the state.
Security has been heightened for Vijayan, who was shown black flags by angry youth activists of the BJP in Kozhikode where he was in connection with some official engagements.
The Sabarimala temple doors opened on November 17 for two months.
The temple town has witnessed protests by Hindu groups since September 28 when the Supreme Court allowed women of all ages to enter the temple that hitherto banned girls and women aged between 10 and 50.
The apex court on November 13 refused to stay that verdict.
While the Kerala government is trying hard to see that the apex court verdict is implemented, the BJP-RSS, other pro-Hindutva forces and the Congress-led UDF are up in arms against violation of the temple tradition.