Devotees throng Indian flashpoint temple, but no women

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Indian Hindu devotees are pictured at the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala in the southern state of Kerala on November 16, 2018. (AFP)
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Indian police mounted a major security operation on Nov. 16 to prevent hard-liners blocking women from entering one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines despite a court order. (AFP)
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Indian Hindu devotees gesture as they wait in queue to climb over the holy eighteen golden steps to worship diety of Hindu god Ayyapa at a temple premises in Sabarimala, in the southern state of Kerala, on November 16, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018

Devotees throng Indian flashpoint temple, but no women

  • India’s Supreme Court ruled in September that all females, including those of menstruating age, could enter the shrine perched in a tiger reserve in the southern state of Kerala
  • Hindu hard-liners clashed with police, assaulted journalists and prevented the court order from being implemented, when the temple reopned

PATHANAMTHITTA, India: Tens of thousands of pilgrims thronged one of Hinduism’s holiest temples in southern India Saturday as it reopened amid high security, but women aged between 10 and 50 were absent despite a court order allowing them to enter.
Hindu activists meanwhile imposed a strike to protest that the security measures were impeding their ability to worship at the Sabarimala shrine, closing shops and reducing traffic to a trickle.
India’s Supreme Court ruled in September that all females, including those of menstruating age, could enter the shrine perched in a tiger reserve in the southern state of Kerala.
But when the temple reopened for several days last month, Hindu hard-liners clashed with police, assaulted journalists and prevented the court order from being implemented.
With thousands of extra riot police on duty and police barricades set up, the hilltop temple reopened late on Friday a day ahead of the start of a Hindu festival period.
Among the several hundred thousand people who have registered to pray at the temple over the coming weeks are around 700 women, setting the stage for a major showdown.
However, no women have yet tried to approach the site ahead of a hearing next week at the Supreme Court of a motion announced late Friday by the board managing the temple site.
It aims to ask the court, likely on Monday, to allow more time to admit women, citing the lack of infrastructure following major floods in August, a spokesman told AFP.
On January 22 the Supreme Court will also hear challenges to its original September ruling, one of a series of recent liberal decisions including the decriminalization of gay sex and of adultery.

One woman who did want to get to Sabarimala on Friday was activist Trupti Desai.
But a crowd of around 500 people staged a sit-in and prevented her from leaving Kochi airport and late Friday she and several women companions flew back to Mumbai, Indian media reported.
“We tried to hire taxis several times but the agitators are not allowing them to take us. They have threatened violence if they do,” Desai told Indian television.
Separately late Friday police arrested another woman, K.P Sasikala, a local community leader, for seeking to defy a ban on spending the night at the temple site.
Sasikala is over 50 so Hindu organizations are not opposed to her entering the site.
Instead they were incensed that restrictions were being imposed on pilgrims and called the local strike for Saturday.
“Hindu community leaders called for the strike and we support it,” P.S Sreedharan Pillai, the local president of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) told AFP.
“The police are putting restrictions on devotees who want to go there and pray,” Pillai added.
A few protesters pelted stones at public buses on the roads in some parts of the state, a Kerala police official told AFP.
Local media reports said about 2,000 protesters gathered around a police station in Pathanamthitta district, 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the temple, where Sasikala was being held.
“Sasikala was detained as the police had instructed that devotees will be not allowed to stay around the temple at night, which she insisted,” Kerala police spokesman Pramod Kumar told AFP.
Women activists say the ban on women between 10 and 50 at Sabarimala reflects an old view that connects menstruation with impurity.
They argue that women are allowed in most Hindu temples and the practice at Sabarimala is part of their tradition, and not anti-women.


French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

Updated 9 min 31 sec ago

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.