Kerala temple clashes spark political standoff

Hindu devotees queue inside Sabarimala temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala. (Reuters)
Updated 19 November 2018
0

Kerala temple clashes spark political standoff

  • India’s Supreme Court on Sept. 28 ended a centuries-old ban on women aged between 10 and 50 entering the temple
  • Ruling BJP supports right-wing protesters who reject the court ruling

NEW DELHI: Growing political tension threatens to disrupt an annual pilgrimage to the hilltop Hindu temple of Sabarimala in Kerala following the arrest of more than 70 people, including a senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Sunday night.
The arrests were made on the temple premises when protests broke out during the first leg of the pilgrimage.
“The police are using their discretionary power on whether to make arrests. Their task is to ensure a peaceful atmosphere in Sabarimala and they are doing their job well,” Loknath Behera, director-general of Kerala police, said on Monday.
Police would take “all necessary steps” if women between the age of 10 and 50 tried to enter the temple, he said.
K. Surendran, the BJP leader, was arrested when he tried to join the pilgrimage despite a warning from police.
The three-month long pilgrimage to the ancient Hindu temple began on Friday and tension has been brewing since.
Women of reproductive age have been barred from entering the temple because, according to Hindu belief, the temple’s main deity, Lord Ayyappa, took an oath of celibacy.
However, on Sept. 28, the Indian Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, ended the ban, opening the way for women of all age groups to join the pilgrimage. The decision angered right-wing Hindu protesters who want to maintain the centuries-old tradition.
Last month, when the temple opened for several days, two women tried walking to the hilltop complex, but were forced to abandon their journey after protesters blocked their path.
The latest clash erupted when the annual pilgrimage began on Friday. According to reports, about 539 women devotees have registered for the pilgrimage.
Last week, after the Supreme Court refused to hear any review petitions on the Sabarimala verdict before January next year, the issue took on political overtones.
K. J. Alphons, the central minister in the BJP government, criticized the local Left Democratic Front government in Kerala for arresting “devotees.”
“A situation worse than an emergency is happening here. Devotees are not terrorists, why do they need 15,000 policemen here?” said Alphons after visiting the temple complex on Monday afternoon.
The government in Kerala blames the BJP for “fomenting trouble and creating problems for real devotees.”
“The BJP is standing in the way of implementing the Supreme Court verdict and the party is fanning trouble,” Thomas Isaac, Kerala’s finance minister, told Arab News.
However, the BJP claims that “the state government failed to put forward its case in the Supreme Court effectively which is why the court gave this kind of verdict.”
M. T. Ramesh, a local party leader, said: “The people arrested are genuine devotees and not the cadres of the BJP as is being suggested.
“It’s the question of the sanctity of the religious place and we are more concerned about that than the Supreme Court’s ruling. The BJP is the only party that is concerned about the interests of the devotees.”
However, political analysts claimed that right-wing Hindu parties using Sabarimala as a potent political issue to expand their presence in Kerala, where the BJP struggles to widen its support.
“This is more of a political agitation,” said N. J. Nair, a senior journalist based in Trivandrum. “BJP workers are entering the temple complex as devotees and creating chaos there.”
He said that the main opposition Congress Party was “behaving like a B team of the BJP.”
Kerala-based political analyst K. P. Sethunath, of the English-language daily newspaper Deccan Chronicle, shared the same opinion.
“The BJP used the Ayodhya temple issue in the 1990s to expand its base in the north. Now it sees an opportunity in the Sabarimala issue to polarize people in Kerala and make its entry into the politics of the state, where it has been struggling hard to find foothold,” he said.
“But people in Kerala are more educated and highly secular, and it would be difficult for the BJP to claim political ground here.”
New Delhi-based lawyer Sunieta Ojha warned that “if the Supreme Court ruling is not heeded then we are staring at a constitutional crisis and sheer contempt of the court.”


Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

In this Sept. 21, 2014 file photo, Denis Baupin, a prominent Green Party member and former Paris city official, takes part in a climate change demonstration in Paris. (AP)
Updated 20 April 2019
0

Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

  • The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law

PARIS: A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.
The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros ($1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people he sued.
In May 2016, investigative website Mediapart and radio station France Inter published and broadcast accounts from 14 women who alleged Baupin had groped, sexted or otherwise harassed them.
The prominent Green Party member resigned as vice president of the lower House of Parliament but denied wrongdoing and launched a defamation lawsuit against the six women who were identified in the reports, some witnesses and journalists.
The case had been under particular scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Women rights activists have seen it as a test of French women’s ability to speak out when they think powerful men have sexually harassed or abused them — and how journalists can report it.
The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law.
In addition, it considered France Inter and Mediapart respected their additional obligations: the legitimacy of journalists’ goals in producing a story, demonstrating an absence of personal animosity, prudence and balance, and the quality of the investigation.
Most of the women who spoke about Baupin’s alleged behavior from 1998 to 2013 were fellow Green Party members, and outrage greeted their descriptions.
Four filed criminal complaints for sexual harassment at the time. A nine-month judicial investigation ended without charges. Prosecutors said the three-year statute of limitations had expired, but released a statement saying the women’s “measured, constant statements” and witness corroboration created a set of facts to support allegations of actions that “may for some of them be classified as criminal.”
The cleared women greeted the ruling with tears of joy and relief.
Lawyer Claire Moleon, a lawyer for one of them, told The Associated Press that “this is a great victory.”
“This is a very strong signal given by justice. It’s putting an end to a move that we were noticing to use defamation lawsuits to put more pressure on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” she said.
Moleon stressed that Baupin’s order to pay damages to the people he sent on trial shows that “sanctions apply” to such cases.
During the February trial, women had described, often with lots of emotion, their alleged harassment through text messages and inappropriate comments, and in some cases, alleged sexual assault attempts.
Some former officials of France’s Green Party also testified in court, saying they should have acted earlier on reports of sexual misconduct. They stressed that the #MeToo movement has raised their awareness.
Baupin’s lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, had argued his client did nothing illegal and had filed a defamation lawsuit to “fully clear his name.”
Baupin had decided not to attend the trial.