Indian temple controversy turns political as protests grow

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Indian Hindu activists block a road to the Sabarimala Temple, at Vadaserikara town in Pathanamthitta district in India's southern Kerala state on October 19, 2018. (AFP)
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Indian police watch over Hindu activists blocking a road to the Sabarimala Temple, at Vadaserikara town in Pathanamthitta district in India's southern Kerala state on October 19, 2018. (AFP)
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Indian Hindu activists block a road to the Sabarimala Temple, at Vadaserikara town in Pathanamthitta district in India’s southern Kerala state on October 19, 2018. (AFP)
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Indian Hindu activists block a road to the Sabarimala Temple, at Vadaserikara town in Pathanamthitta district in India’s southern Kerala state on October 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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Indian temple controversy turns political as protests grow

  • Three dozen priests staged a sit-in against the verdict overturning the ban that kept women aged between 10 and 50 out of the temple.
  • Though Hindus form a majority of the Kerala's population of more than 35 million, it is home to millions of Muslims and Christians.

KOCHI/NEW DELHI: A senior leader of India’s ruling party warned on Friday that protesters in the southern state of Kerala would take the law into their hands if officials attempted to let women enter a hill temple at the center of a raging controversy.
A political tinge for the controversy could help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party gain ground in Kerala, where it has never made much headway, and won just one of 98 seats it contested in the last elections to the state assembly in 2016.
Protests against women entering the Hindu temple grew on Friday, with hundreds of hard-liners blocking three women from entering the Sabarimala temple for a third day.
The demonstrators were defying a Supreme Court verdict that overturned a decades-old ruling by a lower court denying entry to women of menstrual age, whom some Hindu communities consider to be ritually unclean.
“If the government is trying to implement its agenda in Sabarimala, we will prevent it, even by taking the law into our hands,” said K. Surendran, the general secretary of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.
“Sabarimala is not a place for anybody to tamper with.”
Surendran accused the state’s Communist Party government, which has tried to implement the verdict, of provoking devotees after police gave protection to some women who sought to reach the remote site.
He did not elaborate on what the party plans to do, however.
Three dozen priests staged a sit-in against the verdict overturning the ban that kept women aged between 10 and 50 out of the temple, where a celibate deity, Lord Ayyappan, is worshipped.
Television broadcast images of scores of police attempting to calm emotional protesters, who consider the verdict a challenge to tradition and interference in religious affairs. The Supreme Court called the tradition patriarchal.
Though Hindus form a majority of the state’s population of more than 35 million, it is home to millions of Muslims and Christians.
The controversy has fired up Hindu religious sentiment, with some residents supporting the view that the temple devotees’ feelings ought to be respected.
Members of Modi’s BJP in the state have also strongly backed those seeking to block the entry of women.
Hindu hard-liners, including members of the BJP’s youth wing, have clashed with police and attacked women, including journalists, who have tried to get to the temple.
Two women who got close were forced to turn back in the face of protests and a threat by the head priest to shut the temple if they entered, senior Kerala police official S. Sreejith told reporters on Friday.
A third woman turned back at the request of police, citing the tension.


Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Updated 22 March 2019
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Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

  • The second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North
  • The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable”

SEOUL: North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.
The development will likely put a damper on ties between the Koreas and complicate global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program. Last month, the second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a meeting at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday.
The North said it “is pulling out with instructions from the superior authority,” according to a Unification Ministry statement. It didn’t say whether North Korea’s withdrawal of staff would be temporary or permanent.
According to the South Korean statement, the North added that it “will not mind the South remaining in the office” and that it would notify the South about practical matters later. Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that South Korea plans to continue to staff the Kaesong liaison office normally and that it expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans to commute to the office. He said Seoul plans to staff the office with 25 people on Saturday and Sunday.
The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable.” It said South Korea urges the North to return its staff to the liaison office soon.
The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps. It is the first such Korean office since the peninsula was split into a US-backed, capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported, socialist North in 1945. The Koreas had previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.
The town is where the Korea’s now-stalled jointly run factory complex was located. It combined South Korean initiatives, capital and technology with North Korea’s cheap labor. Both Koreas want the US to allow sanctions exemptions to allow the reopening of the factory park, which provided the North with much-needed foreign currency.