Thursday’s dawn to dusk hartal (shut down) in Kerala called by the Sabarimala Action Committee turned out to be total as well as an unpleasant experience. Shops and establishments remained closed throughout the State while public transport services remained suspended.
The hartal was against the action of the CPI-M led Kerala Government which helped two middle aged women to sneak into the Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala early Wednesday morning as part of implementing last year’s Supreme Court verdict which had quashed the ban on entry of women into the temple. Interestingly, the call for hartal was issued by K P Sasikala, the frail looking president of the SAC who became the first woman in South India to declare a state-wide hartal.
Six persons have been injured in incidents of stabbing and fisticuffs at various places in the State. Three BJP workers were stabbed at Vadanappilli in Thrissur district in clashes between the pro and anti hartal activists in the locality.
K Surendran, BJP secretary alleged that the BJP workers were attacked by activists of CPI-M and SDPI , an Islamist organisation which has enormous strength in the coastal town of Vadanappali. The districts of Kannur and Kasargod too witnessed pitched battles between the workers of the BJP and the CPI-M who were supported by the Popular Front of India and SDPI activists.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan alleged that the Sangh Parivar ‘elements” were trying to foment trouble in Kerala under the pretext of saving Sabarimala. Addressing the media at Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday morning, Vijayan took strong exception to the decision of the Sabarimala Action Committee to call for hartal. He claimed that the two women entered the sanctum of the temple because of the cooperation extended by the devotees and the police had no role in it. “We were asked to provide them with police security and we were bound by the Constitution to do so,” said Vijayan.
Vijayan lambasted the Thanthri (Chief Priest) of Sabarimala for ordering the closure of the temple for performing purification rituals after the entry of the two women. “This is rare and unheard of. If the Thanthri was against the verdict of the Supreme Court, he should have quit his job immediately. We will certainly take action against him for conducting the purification rituals,” said Vijayan.
But the Chief Minister’s remarks about the death of Chandran Unnithan, the Ayyappa devotee at Pandalam , caused wide resentment in the State. Vijayan said Unnithan died because of heart attack while the latter had been grievously injured in stone pelting allegedly by the CPI-M workers.
Unnithan was participating in a rally at Pandalam town to protest against the entry of women devotees in the temple when activists of CPI-M pelted stones at the protestors. The autopsy report from Kottayam Medical College stated that Unnithan died because of the severe injury suffered on his skull.
Though there were resistance to the forced shut down from various traders organisations in the State who came forward to open the shops on Thursday morning , the SAC sent out a warning that people in Kerala would boycott the shops which do not cooperate with the hartal. The message was issued after the chief minister’s statement that Unnithan died of heart attack.
P Rajan, a prominent civil rights activist told The Pioneer that this was the first time the organisers of a hartal sending out message that they would boycott shops daring to open on Thursday. “Nobody can blame them because they have the right to call for hartals and ask people to cooperate with them. Moreover Kerala is home to hartals and it is too late to resist calls for shut down. Will they come forward and resist the 48-hour hartal scheduled for January 8 and 9 by the CPI-M”? asked Rajan.