India police arrest more than 2,000 over temple protests

Police is seen deployed at the Nilakkal Base Camp to prevent clashes between women of menstrual age entering the Sabarimala temple for the first time in centuries and conservative Hindu groups out to stop them, in Pathanamthitta, in the southern state of Kerala, India, in this October 17, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 October 2018

India police arrest more than 2,000 over temple protests

  • “We have arrested 2,061 people under various sections of the Indian penal code, including inciting communal violence, the arms act and destruction of public property,” a police official told AFP on condition of anonymity

NEW DELHI: Indian police have rounded up more than 2,000 people for stopping women from entering a flashpoint Hindu shrine in defiance of a Supreme Court order, officials said Friday.
Hindu hard-liners prevented women aged 10 to 50 from reaching the Sabarimala temple complex in Kerala state over the last week — the first time the temple has opened since the court ended a longstanding ban on women of menstruating age from worshipping there.
Protesters, including women and children, massed at the bottom of a hill leading to the shrine, threatening and manhandling any women who attempted to reach the temple.
Some protesters smashed car windows and clashed with olice, who started a crackdown on the blockade Wednesday.
“We have arrested 2,061 people under various sections of the Indian penal code, including inciting communal violence, the arms act and destruction of public property,” a police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The official added that 452 cases had been registered against the suspects so far.
More arrests appeared likely as details of hundreds more suspects were to be published, police said.
The temple has become the center of a gender equality battle, pitting traditionalists against progressive voices pushing for a more liberal Hinduism.
The shrine is only open on a handful of days every year, and after last month’s Supreme Court order a number of Hindu women had flocked there.
Armed police tried to escort some devotees — but none made it to the top of the hill where the temple is located during the five-day worship period before it closed late Monday.
The temple will open for a one-day ritual next week and starts a two-month festival in the second week of November.
The Supreme Court is also to hear new petitions challenging its ruling in favor of women in November.
Sabarimala devotees believe allowing women of menstruating age to worship goes against the wishes of Lord Ayappa, a celibate deity.
Kerala’s influential Nair community have slammed police for arresting “devotees,” calling the action unethical and undemocratic.
Most Hindu temples allow women to enter as long as they are not menstruating.
Two years ago, activists campaigned to end a ban on women entering the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra state.
Women were also permitted to enter Mumbai’s Hajji Ali Dargah mausoleum, a Muslim place of worship, after the Supreme Court ended a ban in 2016.


Afghanistan to free 900 more Taliban prisoners

Updated 35 min 40 sec ago

Afghanistan to free 900 more Taliban prisoners

  • The government earlier responded to the Taliban’s cease-fire offer by announcing plans to release up to 2,000 insurgent prisoners
  • The cease-fire, only the second of its kind in the 19-year-old conflict, has raised hopes of an extended truce

KABUL: Afghan authorities plan to release 900 more Taliban prisoners Tuesday, as a rare cease-fire by the insurgents entered its third and last day.
The pause in fighting, which came into effect Sunday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, was for the most part holding out across the country, officials said.
The government earlier responded to the Taliban’s cease-fire offer by announcing plans to release up to 2,000 insurgent prisoners.
On Monday they freed 100 people and will release another 900 on Tuesday, the government said, the biggest group of Taliban prisoners freed so far.
“There is a decision to release 900 today,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP.
But the exact number could vary subject to legal procedures, he added.
The cease-fire, only the second of its kind in the 19-year-old conflict, has raised hopes of an extended truce that could pave the way for long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.
President Ashraf Ghani has said his administration is ready to begin the negotiations, seen as key to ending the war in the impoverished country.
On Tuesday officials said the cease-fire, the country’s first initiated by the Taliban, had largely been observed.
The only other comparable pause in violence came over Eid in 2018, an olive branch offered by Ghani.
Violence in Afghanistan escalated after the Taliban signed a deal with Washington in February to withdraw all US forces by next year.
The agreement also stipulated the Afghan government would first release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel.
Prior to this week’s releases, Kabul had already freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates, while the insurgents had let go about 300 Afghan security forces captives.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has welcomed the cease-fire, and said the freed Taliban fighters should not return to the battlefield.