Indian airport protesters block woman activist’s plan to enter hill temple

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Trupthi Desai (R), Indian radical Hindu gender equality activist stands with her colleagues as they are prevented to go out while a crowd of protestors shout slogans at Kochi International Airport on November 16, 2018. (AFP)
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Hindu activists protest as activist Trupthi Desai (unseen) arrives at Cochin International Airport on November 16, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018

Indian airport protesters block woman activist’s plan to enter hill temple

  • Thousands of demonstrators have protested against the Supreme Court’s decision, and conservative Hindu groups prevented about a dozen young women from entering the temple last month
  • “Desai has come as an activist. She has come to create trouble at Sabarimala. We will not allow this,” said 55-year-old Rajeswari Amma, a worshipper of the Sabarimala

KOCHI/NEW DELHI: Thousands of protesters blocked all the exits at a southern Indian airport for more than 14 hours on Friday, stopping a rights activist from heading to a Hindu temple to defy a centuries-old ban on most women entering.
Campaigner Trupti Desai said she had decided to retreat for now to avoid a confrontation, but promised to return to Kerala unannounced in her next attempt.
Widespread protests broke out in the state after India’s top court ordered authorities in September to lift a ban on women or girls aged between 10 and 50 from entering the temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.
Conservative Hindu groups say the restriction is meant to bar girls and women who might be menstruating, which they say would defile the temple’s inner shrine.
Desai arrived with a group of women at Kerala’s biggest and busiest airport in the city of Kochi, at 4.30 a.m. (2230 GMT Thursday) and said she planned make the 155km (100-mile) journey to the Sabarimala hill temple and enter it on Saturday.
But protesters massed around the exits and police advised her group not to try to get through because of safety concerns.
“We are returning not because we are afraid, but because the police advised us that the situation could spiral into a deeper law and order situation. We do not want to create that,” Desai told reporters.
“We booked taxis three or four times, but drivers said they were threatened their vehicles would be vandalized if they offer us a ride,” she said.

“RIGHT TO PRAY“
Hotels had also been reluctant to offer rooms because they feared they would be attacked, she added. “This kind of bullying and hooliganism are unacceptable,” Desai told Reuters.
Desai has led a successful campaign to give women the right to enter the inner sanctums of three temples in the western state of Maharashtra under the slogan “Right to Pray.”
“Desai has come as an activist. She has come to create trouble at Sabarimala. We will not allow this,” said 55-year-old Rajeswari Amma, a worshipper of the Sabarimala deity from Aluva, about 12km (7.5 miles) from the airport.
Thousands of demonstrators have protested against the Supreme Court’s decision, and conservative Hindu groups prevented about a dozen young women from entering the temple last month.
The court has set Jan. 22 to hear nearly 50 petitions seeking reimposition of the ban. Until then, its earlier ruling allowing women entry stays in force, it said.
As a result, the state government, run by the Communist Party of India, and legally bound to follow the court, finds itself at loggerheads with devotees and opposition parties who want the ban to continue until the court review.
The temple administration plans to file a petition with the top court requesting more time to implement its order, Travancore Devaswom Board president A. Padmakumar told reporters.
The hillside temple, nestled in a forest in the Western Ghats mountain range, reopened at 5 p.m. (1130 GMT) on Friday and will remain open for more than two months, with a three-day break in December. (Writing by Malini Menon; Editing by Martin Howell and Andrew Heavens)


India arrests senior Kashmir leader under controversial law

Updated 3 min 43 sec ago

India arrests senior Kashmir leader under controversial law

  • Farooq Abdullah, 81, who also was the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested at his residence in Srinagar
  • ‘We have arrested him, and a committee will decide how long the arrest will be’
NEW DELHI: A Parliament member who is a senior pro-India politician in Indian-controlled Kashmir was arrested Monday under a controversial law that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial.
Farooq Abdullah, 81, who also was the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested at his residence in Srinagar, the summer capital and main city of the disputed Himalayan region.
“We have arrested him, and a committee will decide how long the arrest will be,” said Muneer Khan, a top police official.
Abdullah is the first pro-India politician who has been arrested under the Public Safety Act, under which rights activists say more than 20,000 Kashmiris have been detained in the last two decades.
Amnesty International has called the PSA a “lawless law,” and rights groups say India has used the law to stifle dissent and circumvent the criminal justice system, undermining accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights.
The PSA came into effect in 1978, under the government of Abdullah’s father, who himself was a highly popular Kashmir leader.
The law, in its early days, was supposedly meant to target timber smugglers in Kashmir. After an armed rebellion started in the region in 1989, the law was used against rebels and anti-India protesters.
Abdullah’s residence was declared a subsidiary jail and he was put under house arrest on Aug. 5 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of semi-autonomy and statehood, creating two federal territories.
Thousands of additional Indian troops were sent to the Kashmir Valley, already one of the world’s most militarized regions. Telephone communications, cellphone coverage, broadband Internet and cable TV services were cut for the valley’s 7 million people, although some communications have been gradually restored.
On Aug. 6, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah denied to the lower house of Parliament that Abdullah had been detained or arrested.
“If he (Abdullah) does not want to come out of his house, he cannot be brought out at gunpoint,” Shah said, when other parliamentarians expressed concern over Abdullah’s absence during the debate on Kashmir’s status.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court sought a response from the central government and the Jammu and Kashmir administration on a plea seeking to produce Abdullah before the court.
Many anti-India protesters as well as pro-India Kashmiri leaders have been held in jails and other makeshift facilities to contain protests against India’s decisions, according to police officials.
Kashmir’s special status was instituted shortly after India achieved independence from Britain in 1947. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, but each control only part of it.
India has often tried to suppress uprisings in the region, including a bloody armed rebellion in 1989. About 70,000 people have been killed since that uprising and a subsequent Indian military crackdown.