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)


Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

Updated 21 min 5 sec ago

Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

  • Filipino groups in Dubai are coming together to collect goods for donation for the Taal eruption victims
  • The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country

DUBAI: A vast grey stretched across empty villages – once verdant, now lifeless after volcanic ash wiped its colors. The thick charcoal-like substance cloaked cracked roads, tumbled trees, and dilapidated houses, as an angry volcano rumbled in the Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced earlier this week when Taal Volcano, a picturesque tourist spot about 70 kilometers south of Manila, spew huge plume of volcanic ash to the sky and triggered sporadic tremors around the province.

“When can we go back to our homes?” a hopeful man asked Filipino volunteer Jaya Bernardo, as she visited an evacuation site near where the Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday.

She couldn’t answer him straight, Bernardo said, because that meant telling him there might not be anything to go back to.

Bernardo, who lives in a mildly-hit town around Taal, has been going around evacuation centers to give out care packages, saying it’s “important for people to come together” in times like this.

Within hours of the volcanic eruption, the call for help reached the UAE, home to about a million Filipino expats. Many community groups have been organizing donation drives to collect goods to be sent back home.

Lance Japor, who leads a community group in Dubai, said inquiries were coming in about how to help volcano victims even before a campaign was announced.

“What I’ve noticed is that the desire to help others in need is innate to us,” he told Arab News, adding it was not the first time Filipino expats showed urgent concern and care for their countrymen when a calamity hit the Philippines.

There was a strong response for families displaced from a city in the south of the country after armed rebels captured the area. A community group from Dubai flew to the restive city to hand out gifts to families who had taken refuge in an abandoned building.

Japor’s volcano campaign has attracted the help of private companies such as hotels donating blankets and pillows, and cargo companies pledging to deliver the packages for free to the Philippines.

Filipino expats have also expressed a desire to volunteer, Japor added, and a volunteer event has been scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s office in Dubai.

Groups in the UAE are working with organizations in the Philippines to facilitate the donations and determine what the affected communities need. The list includes special face masks and eye drops, said Japor.

The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area and villages lie empty, with authorities warning of a “bigger eruption” as earthquakes were still being felt around the area. 

The region was at alert level four from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, meaning that “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is five.

The institute strongly reiterated total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in hazard maps.

“Residents around Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Police in the area have also warned residents against trying to go back to their houses without official clearance from authorities, but local media reports said people were sneaking back by boat to the island and nearby towns to check on their possessions.