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.


Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

Updated 11 min 27 sec ago
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Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

  • The threat came as US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process
  • Khalilzad is meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process

KABUL: The Taliban said on Tuesday they would call off peace talks with the US if its troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan. The threat came as the US special envoy landed in Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process.

Last month, it was reported that President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of thousands of troops. 

But there has been speculation the US wants to keep some military bases in Afghanistan, and that it is pushing the Taliban to hold direct talks with Kabul.

The Taliban has objected to government involvement in its meetings with Khalilzad and wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

The armed group said the US must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it would be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until its “unlawful pressures and maneuvering” ended. 

“The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in November to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said, accusing the US of “backing out from that agenda and unilaterally adding new subjects.”

The US Embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad was meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

His arrival in Kabul followed stops in India, the UAE and China.

Mohammad Akbari, one of those at the meeting, said Khalilzad had expressed optimism about his efforts and regional cooperation but had not revealed why he was so hopeful.

Khalilzad later tweeted about the “good session” in Kabul.

“We discussed the peace process & all agree that progress depends on Afghans sitting with each other, negotiating a future for all Afghan people,” he said.

The US Embassy said the goal was to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen “enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.” 

Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political science professor, said peace talks in a normal country faced ups and downs but there would be more hurdles when it came to Afghanistan because of the war’s complexity. 

“We had 40 years of war so one should not expect a quick resolution of the crisis. The first priority for peace is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their historical differences,” he told Arab News.

“If you have consensus in a realistic manner between these two countries, then you are depriving the Taliban from a key supporter, long believed to be Pakistan. Then you can forge consensus in the region and reintegrate the Taliban in the political mainstream.”