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Hindu hard-liners paralyze Indian state over women at shrine

photo by AP photo

A man pedals his bicycle past police officers standing in front of the closed shops during a strike called by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to protest against state government for allowing two women t

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04th-Jan-2019       
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AP, New Delhi :
Hindu hard-liners shut shops and businesses and clashed with police in a southern state Thursday to protest the entry of two women in one of India's largest Hindu pilgrimage sites.
Supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party held protest marches in Kerala state as part of a strike call by Sabarimala Karma Samithi, an umbrella organization of Hindu groups.
Women of menstruating age were forbidden to pray at the temple until the Supreme Court lifted the ban in September. The ban was informal for many years, but became law in 1972. Some devotees have filed a petition saying the court decision revoking the ban was an affront to celibate deity Ayyappa.
The two women entered the temple to pray early Wednesday. They were escorted by police because it is "the government's constitutional responsibility to give protection to women," said Pinarayi Vijayan, the state's top elected official.
He accused the BJP of triggering violence when police fired tear gas at several places to disperse stone-throwing mobs protesting the women's entry.
Vijayan told reporters on Thursday that 39 police officers were injured while trying to control the protesters, who also damaged 79 state-run buses in the state.
The Press Trust of India news agency reported that a 55-year-old passerby who was seriously injured in rock throwing by protesters in Pandalam a town died later Wednesday.
India's Supreme Court in September ordered the lifting of the ban on women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala hill temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year. The temple has refused to abide by the ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit have been blocked by thousands of devotees.
In the early hours of Wednesday, two women were escorted by police into the temple through a side gate without being spotted by devotees guarding the temple.
The women offered prayers from the back of the crowd from the top of a staircase where they could see the deity below without drawing the attention of the priest or other devotees, a police official familiar with the operation said.
He did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
"Surprise was the biggest element here," the official said.

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