Suspected radicals torch Hindu retreat as anti-women protests intensify
- BJP official described top court ruling allowing women into a temple as a ‘well-planned conspiracy to destroy the sanctity of temples’ by communists
Suspected Hindu radicals set fire to a religious centre in southern India on Saturday for supporting a Supreme Court decision allowing women of menstruating age at one of the religion’s most important pilgrimage sites.
Swami Sandeepananda Giri, who runs the centre in Kerala state, said two cars and a scooter outside the ashram were also torched in the early morning attack in the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram.
Television stations showed video of the centre burning, but it wasn’t immediately clear how much damage was done.
The attackers also placed a wreath outside the retreat condemning Giri.
“We are investigating the matter. No arrests have been made so far,” a Thiruvananthapuram police spokesman said.
Kerala state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan condemned the attack on the ashram, saying in social media posts that such disputes had to be “dealt with at an ideological level”.
“We will not let anyone take law and order into their hands,” Vijayan said.
Giri blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Nationalist party for the attack.
The party has demanded the Communist Party of India-led state government appeal the court’s decision.
Authorities said they arrested about 2,000 people for blocking entry to women aged 10-50 when the temple opened for prayers last week. However, courts have freed about 1,500 on bail.
Police said more arrests are likely as they sift through video footage of attacks on women devotees and police near the Sabarimala temple.
The BJP’s president Amit Shah slammed the state government for the arrests and use of “brute force” against its party workers and rightwing allies, who were among those detained.
Shah told a public gathering in Kerala on Saturday that his party would stand by its arrested followers.
“It’s a well-planned conspiracy to destroy the sanctity of temples in Kerala by the communists,” he said.
The Supreme Court is to hear new petitions challenging its ruling from November 13, just before the temple is expected to open again.
Sabarimala devotees believe letting the women in goes against the wishes of the temple’s celibate deity.
Additional reporting by Associated Press