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.”


Dhaka backs ICC call for Rohingya inquiry

This combination of file photos created on November 14, 2019, shows Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (L) attending the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bangkok on November 4, 2019 and Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attending the 71th anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon on July 19, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 34 min 45 sec ago

Dhaka backs ICC call for Rohingya inquiry

  • Full-scale investigation will exert ‘real pressure’ on Myanmar over repatriation, experts say

DHAKA: Bangladeshi experts on Saturday welcomed the International Criminal Court’s decision to launch a full-scale investigation into Myanmar’s alleged mass persecution of the Rohingya.
Following a request from the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, earlier this year, the court on Thursday approved an inquiry into alleged atrocities carried out by Myanmar since 2016, which the UN has previously referred to as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Delwar Hossain, director general of the East Asia wing of Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, said the case was “very sensitive”
for Bangladesh.
“We consider the matter like the other international community. Here the ICC will conduct its investigation independently and we will not intervene or hamper their investigation process,” Hossain told Arab News.
“Earlier, too, when the ICC team visited Bangladesh to hear the plight of the Rohingya, they moved freely wherever they wanted. We have just facilitated their movements,” he added.
Prof. Akmol Hossain of Dhaka University said that as a signatory of the Rome statute, Bangladesh must comply with ICC rules and regulations, adding that, in principle, the court’s latest move is a “victory”
for Bangladesh.
“The ICC will investigate the mass persecution against Rohingyas on its own. Gambia has filed the case from international responsibility. Now it is primarily established that injustices were made to the Rohingya in Myanmar,” Hossain said.
“When the full-scale investigation against Myanmar begins, it will create a lot pressure on the country. Bangladesh needs to continue its diplomatic efforts among the international community to build more pressure on Myanmar which may create some opportunities for a sustainable Rohingya repatriation,” he added.
Former Ambassador Rashed Ahmed Chowdhury said the ICC’s decision was “a most welcoming development.”
Myanmar will never accept the Rohingya if the issue remains unresolved, he said.
“This is the real pressure on Myanmar and it will bring some solutions,” Chowdhury said.
“Now international law will take its own course to investigate the genocide. It is difficult to foresee what will happen, but it is a major
development.”
Bangladesh is currently hosting almost 1.2 million Rohingya at the squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, which is considered the world’s largest refugee settlement.
Since August 2017, more than 750,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape persecution in their homeland.
The UN has said that attacks on the Rohingya had a “genocidal intent.”