Kerala temple clashes spark political standoff

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

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.”


Malaysian fish farm aims to dip into $1.64bn global caviar market

Updated 6 min 51 sec ago

Malaysian fish farm aims to dip into $1.64bn global caviar market

  • Owners of luxury T’lur Caviar brand ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon prized delicacy
  • alaysia does not have a proper winter, sturgeon can be harvested there 50 percent faster than globally

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian fish farming business is hoping to dip into the multibillion-dollar global market for caviar after accidentally stumbling into producing the gourmet delicacy.

When Taiwanese entrepreneur Chien Wei Ho, one of the owners of the T’lur Caviar brand, first started harvesting sturgeon in Malaysia, he never expected to end up in the lucrative caviar trade.

Wei Ho and his group of Malaysian sturgeon farmers were based in a country not best-suited for harvesting caviar, mainly due to a lack of technological support and unfavorable weather conditions.

It was only after 10 years of sturgeon farming that the business partners “accidentally” discovered the “gold mine” after one of the fish had to be euthanized. When they cut it open, its egg sack was full of caviar.

“He (Wei Ho) was taken aback. For many years he had been told the fish could not have caviars,” Shaun Kenneth Simon, T’lur’s chief marketing officer told Arab News.

A company director came up with the idea to “market the caviars instead of just selling fish,” and before long they were swimming against the tide cultivating the prized delicacy for Malaysian clients.

“What we are doing here is very different from other countries. We discovered the caviars by chance,” said Simon.

He said that 12 years ago, Wei Ho – who also owns several resorts in Taiwan – was cultivating fish and flower farms and was well-known for growing beautiful orchids. “Rearing sturgeon was just a hobby for him.”

However, when a typhoon struck Taiwan and destroyed all his farms, Wei Ho decided to look for a safer place to operate from.

“Through his friends, he came to Tanjung Malim, in Perak, where he decided to dabble in the sturgeon farm business in Malaysia,” Simon said.

Malaysia was the obvious choice, he added, especially since it was rarely impacted by natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes.

Nevertheless, big challenges were in store for Wei Ho. Experts, including a German aquaculture specialist, warned that the fish would probably not live past three years old, let alone lay eggs.

“Malaysia has a warm tropical climate and without any expensive, climate-controlled machinery to keep the water cool, many advised Wei Ho that the fish would not survive,” Simon added.

To overcome the hurdle, Wei Ho used local aquaculture techniques to acclimatize the sturgeon to Malaysia’s climate. “Basically, we taught the fish how to survive in Malaysia’s temperature.”

The process worked, but Wei Ho had only planned to rear and sell the fish, not harvest caviar.

Sturgeon have a lucrative market potential because they are high in collagen and rich in omega oils. Because Malaysia does not have a proper winter, sturgeon can be harvested there 50 percent faster than anywhere else in the world.

Seven species are reared on the farm, but the ones used for caviar are Siberian and Amur.

The brand name T’lur also came about by chance. “Because international brands have cool names, we thought ‘why not call it telur?’ which means eggs in Malay language. And because we were all Malaysians, we put an apostrophe in the word to make it sound French,” Simon said.

Currently, T’lur caviar is marketed only in Malaysia despite growing demand from neighboring countries, but the company is planning to go global. Most of its customers are chefs from fine-dining city restaurants.

“We are bringing something new to Malaysia, which is not really known for producing luxury products. We are learning to refine this further to bring it to a higher standard,” he added.

Caviar is a high-end luxury delicacy that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per kilogram. One of the most expensive in the luxury market is beluga caviar, mainly found in the world’s largest salt-water lake, the Caspian Sea.

With an insatiable appetite for fish eggs from several countries around the world, the market for the product is expected to be worth $1.64 billion (SR6.11 billion) by 2025, according to a survey conducted by Adroit Market Research.

The study revealed that greater access to international cuisine, along with stronger purchasing powers, had seen demand soar.